Studies in The Baptist Catechism: Section Four – Our First Parents, Sin, and the Fall (Q.20-21)

Earlier Studies –

Listen to the audio for this lessons here and here.



Q.20: Into what estate did the fall bring mankind?

A. The fall brought mankind into an estate of sin and misery.1

1Romans 5:12


As we have already mentioned the fall of mankind, which affects us all, has plunged us into an estate of sin and misery. We have mentioned it at great length in the past. Today, we will begin to consider just what that means. Initially, we must consider the fact that, sin entering into the world through one man, all men sin. Correlatively, death entered through that sin and, therefore, death has spread to all men.

“Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned,” (Romans 5:12; NASB).

As a result, the world we inherit from Adam is a world that is mired in sin and its effects. In this lesson and the next, we will consider just what that means. What does it mean that the world is mired in sin, and what does it mean that the world has succumb to its effects?


Q.21: Wherein consists the sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell?

A. The sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell, consists in the guilt of Adam’s first sin, the want of original righteousness, and the corruption of his whole nature, which is commonly called original sin; together with all actual transgressions which proceed from it.1

1Romans 5:12, to the end; Ephesians 2:1-3; James 1:14-15; Matthew 15:19


In coming to understand the sinfulness and misery of our inherited estate, we come most clearly to the point of understanding our need for the gospel. Thus, we come to one of the most foundational affirmations of the Christian religion in the subject matter we here observe. For lack of understanding these truths, many a man and woman have not come to a vivid enough understanding of their need for Christ. For all of the imagined light in their interpretation of themselves and this present evil age, they have neglected the one true Light that might have led to their salvation.

Adam’s guilt. We must begin with the guilt of Adam, because his guilt is binding on all of his progeny. This is a very difficult truth to even consider. We balk against such a notion who were born into Western societies where individualism is the ruling philosophy. We do not easily think in terms of monarchs and representative heads. What we do is what we do, and that is distinct from everyone else with whom we share this land. If our nation commits an atrocity, we turn on it, and we seek to stand apart from it with the world in condemnation of it. We do not readily accept guilt alongside the nation to which we belong.

Adam did not merely serve as our first father. He also served as our first prophet, priest, and king. It was through him that Eve and their children were to receive the word of God as prophet. It was on their behalf that he was to intercede as priest. It was over them that he was to rule as a benevolent king. When we consider our relationship to Adam through these offices, we understand the stark reality that his sin falls upon us as well. We have a prophet who failed in his duty to convey the statutes of God. We have a priest who is no longer granted access into the presence of God to offer intercession on behalf of the people. We have a king who has plunged his kingdom into a war with none other than the Almighty, the Lord of Hosts! Ceremonially and civilly, we stand condemned in Adam’s guilt.

“The bond between Adam and his posterity is twofold: natural, as he is a father and we are his children; and political and forensic, as he was the prince and representative head of the whole human race,” (Alexander Whyte, An Exposition on the Shorter Catechism, pg. 61).

We may think it unjust that we are so treated, but who are we to respond to the Maker (Rom. 9:20)? We may think it unfair to be represented in such a way by a covenant head, but such a view of fairness would have us all stand in our own sins before the Judge of the world. Fairness, in this sense, would mean hell for us all. Since God did ordain that we should be represented by covenant heads, we now have a perfect Prophet, Priest, and King to stand in our stead. In Christ, we have a Prophet who speaks perfectly the oracles of God. We have a Priest who ever lives to intercede for us. We have a King who rules our hearts and our minds with longsuffering, and lovingkindness.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that our first federal head did sin, and we inherited his guilt. “So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men,” (Rom. 5:18; NASB). Were we only condemned because of our actual sin and not any sin imputed to us, we could only be saved by virtue of actual righteousness and could not trust in any imputed righteousness.

Original sin. Not only have we inherited Adam’s sin guilt, but we have inherited his sin nature. This is what theologians call original sin. As a result of Adam’s sin, all who proceed from him by natural generation are born in sin. That is to say that we are born enslaved to sin. At the same time, it means that we are born with a complete lack of any original righteousness. In this sense, we are not wholly unlike Adam in his original estate, but neither are we wholly like him.

Adam was made with the ability to choose both good or evil. That is the first estate of man. After the fall, we are all born with only the ability to choose evil. There is no amount of good that we may attempt that is not in some way tainted with sin. The extent of original sin is such that it affects the entirety of our beings.

Thomas Watson specifies several facets of our being that are brought under the sway of original sin. He lists our intellect, our heart, our will, and our affections. By intellect, he means to say that we cannot think properly about God since the fall. “The mind is darkened, we know little of God. Ever since Adam did eat of the tree of knowledge, and his eyes were opened, we lost our eyesight,” (A Body of Divinity). Thus, even our humility of mind is mixed with a certain measure of pride, our sound theology mixed with unsound, and our mental assent to the things of God mixed with some doubt. Our suppression of truth stems from our unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18).

Our heart is also under its sway. As Watson observes, “In the heart are legions of lusts, obdurateness, infidelity, hypocrisy, sinful estuations; it boils as the sea with passion and revenge,” (A Body of Divinity). In Adam, our hearts are wholly given over to the passions of this life (Mt. 15:19). They are bound in every way to the sin nature they inherited from our first parents and are restrained only by the grace of God and His sovereign purposes. We often stand in great judgment over the evils we have seen perpetrated, even in our time. We look upon a genocidal dictator, a serial killer, a school shooter, or a rapist, and we think it in some measure appropriate for us to believer ourselves to be better than them. Only by the grace of God, though, do we find that we are not worse than them. Our heart has within it all the original sin necessary to drive us to even worse forms of depravity.

What of the will of man? Much is made in our day about the freedom of the will. Surely, our wills are not under the sway of sin. On the contrary, our wills are wholly enslaved to our original sin nature. “There is rooted enmity in the will against holiness; it is like an iron sinew, it refuses to bend to God. Where is then the freedom of the will, when it is so full not only of indisposition, but opposition to what is spiritual?” (A Body of Divinity). We tend to think of the will as something that needs to be broken or, at best, shaped according to right tendencies. A great deal can be done toward this end, especially by parents. However, sin holds so much sway over our children that only God is ultimately capable of enlivening it and inclining it toward Him (1Kgs. 8:57-58). Thus, peppered throughout all of our dealings with men, women, and children to turn their wills toward God must be our prayers for God to act to bring about the desired result.

What of the affections, though. Can we not stir the affections of man such that he inclines toward God? No. Watson compares the affections of man to a violin whose strings have been allowed to lay dormant and are thus out of tune (A Body of Divinity). The whole of our affections were designed from the beginning to be set upon God. Instead, they have come to be inclined toward His good gifts, thus making them into little god-substitutes. Such is the idolatry of man’s heart. It is not merely seated in our lack of proper affection toward our Creator, but also in our improper affections toward His creation (Rom. 1:25).

We are enslaved to the sin we inherit from Adam, but we are also found to be spiritually dead in it. Adam might have initially had occasion to breathe a sigh of relief when he saw that he did not immediately die a physical death after eating the forbidden fruit. The day that he did eat of it, however, he did surely die. He died spiritually and was found to be dead in his trespasses and sins. Thus, all of his posterity finds themselves in the same predicament. We are all spiritually stillborn. That is, we are born spiritually dead in our trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1-3).

Actual sin. Such being our nature, we still have the matter of our actual sins. The term actual as it is used in the The Baptist Catechism does not mean what it might mean in our day. The Catechism isn’t saying that there are fake sins and real sins, and only those sins that we commit outwardly are real sins. Rather, the word is being used in its classical sense. It is speaking of our acts of sin. Those sins that we commit, whether by omission or commission that are rightly ours and for which men will give an account on judgment day.

On that day, none of us will be able to stand and pass blame on to Adam for the sins we have committed. We cannot choose otherwise, but we do not choose against our will. It is a desire we inherit, but it is nonetheless our desire. When we are carried away and enticed by lust, it is our own lust. “But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death,” (James 1:14-15; NASB).

We must nevertheless understand the original sin from which this actual sin stems. How else will we discover the cure for it? When a poisonous substance is found to flow in a stream, the poison must be traced back upstream to its source so that it can be eradicated. Sadly, the source of original sin cannot be eradicated in this life. It is lodged immovably in the rocks of man’s soul, and will continue to affect all of our proceedings. An ever deepening awareness of it, though, can aid us in subduing and mortifying it. Original sin may taint all that we do, but we war against it nonetheless and daily, through the work of the Holy Spirit, see victory over it.

We will never be perfect in this life. The idea that man can be perfect in this life has been a plague on the Western church for the better part of three centuries. There is no such doctrine to be found in the Bible. “The truth is, an unspeakable torture and wretchedness, because of indwelling and ineradicable sin, has always been a mark of the presence of a deep and evangelical work of grace in the soul,” (Whyte, An Exposition, pg. 64). So take heart, Christian, if you find yourself to be a great sinner; so did Paul (1Tim. 1:15). Acknowledging the enemy is the first step in waging war against him.

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