Table of Contents
Part I – Prolegomena
Part II – What Man Ought to Believe Concerning God
Part III – What Duty God Requires of Man
- Section Eight: Introduction to the Moral Law
- Section Nine: The First Table of the Moral Law (Part One)
- Section Ten: The First Table of the Moral Law (Part Two)
- Section Eleven: The Second Table of the Moral Law (Part One)
- Section Twelve: The Second Table of the Moral Law (Part Two)
- Section Thirteen: The Proper Response to Law and Gospel
Part VI – The Communication of God’s Grace
- Section Fourteen: The Ordinary Means of Grace
- Section Fifteen: Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer
In writing this humble series, I don’t hope to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the great theologians who have already written on these subjects. What I do hope to accomplish is to make The Baptist Catechism a bit more accessible and clear for my generation. Having completed the fourth series of articles on the Catechism, you may now read it in its entirety below.
Q.16: Did our first parents continue in the estate wherein they were created?
A. Our first parents being left to the freedom of their own will, fell from the estate wherein they were created, by sinning against God.1
1Genesis 3:6-7, 13; Ecclesiastes 7:29
Last we visited the Catechism, we observed the estate wherein our first parents were created. According to the Catechism for Boys and Girls, Adam and Eve were created “holy and happy.” They had everything they needed and much, much more. As we embark on the fourth section in our study, we will see how they did not long remain in this state of holiness and happiness but, by their disobedience, descended into a new estate: an estate of sin and misery. We will further observe how we, their descendants according to the flesh, fell along with them into an estate of sin and misery.
Before considering the fall of man, we must consider one last aspect of his original estate. One of the great misrepresentations of a Reformed anthropology is the suggestion that the Reformed teaching presents man as a robot created with no will of his own. This simply is not the case. Note for instance the first two paragraphs of The Baptist Confession’s chapter on Free Will:
“God hath endued the will of man with that natural liberty and power of acting upon choice, that it is neither forced, nor by any necessity of nature determined to do good or evil,” (The Baptist Confession of 1677/1689, 9.1).
“Man, in his state of innocency, had freedom and power to will and to do that which was good and well-pleasing to God, but yet was unstable, so that he might fall from it,” (Ibid, 9.2).
Adam and his progeny, by nature, were given the liberty and the power to act with respect to choice. This is merely to say that we make choices every day to do either good or evil. In support of this thesis, the Confession need not offer any justification, because it is self-evident. Regardless, biblical justification is offered in the form of biblical citations:
“I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live,” (Deut. 30:19; NKJV).
God does put before us choices in this life, and these choices are not mere façades. Rather, mankind is offered real choices. The question is, though the choices are offered, are we capable in our own power of choosing the God-honoring choice and, if not, by what or by whom are we hindered?
We shall see in our future studies how the Bible answers the question of our inability to choose but, for our current study, we see that Adam and Eve were capable of choosing good. The “teacher” of Ecclesiastes explains, “Truly, this only I have found: that God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes,” (Eccl. 7:29; NKJV). The nature of Adam was good and well-pleasing to God, but he was yet unstable so that he might fall.
He was made upright in that he there was no natural inclination against God’s moral law written into his being. In other words, it would not be by the finger of God impressed upon the nature of man that he would of necessity fall. He was made upright, with the ability to choose both good an evil. He was created perfect, but he was created with a will, fallible and mutable as he was in his creatureliness.
“Indeed fallibility belongs to the nature of created spirits. It is involved in their possession of the power of contrary choice, that whenever good and evil are presented, the latter may be chosen, and thus the spiritual creature may fall. Any idea of a probation implies such choice,” (James P. Boyce, Abstract of Systematic Theology, pg. 216).
Man was created in perfection with the ability to choose good and evil. God is not the author of evil, so He by no means forced his hand in the fall. He did, however, create him with the ability to fall of his own agency, and knew precisely how and when and to what end this fall would occur. This doctrine is perhaps one of the most difficult for the human mind to try to grasp, because it is so tied up in the mystery of God’s secret counsel.
“It is a very mysterious thing that God should so ‘innovate upon His own eternity’ as to summon into existence a race of creatures, and bestow upon them the perilous gift of free-will: a perilous and in the event a fatal gift: because, as experience proved, the possessor of it might rise up against his Maker, might oppose and obstruct His will, and introduce sin and misery and death where life and love and holiness had been intended to dwell,” (Alexander Whyte, An Exposition on the Shorter Catechism, pg. 52).
We began this discussion in the context of the covenantal estate in which man was created. We spoke of the righteousness and the holiness of man in his original state. This was truly a blessed position in which to be placed. It was also, as the above quote demonstrates, a perilous one. Man was created upright, but he was mutable and insecure in all his ways.
Man was like a log teetering on a precipice, a log into which freedom of choice was suddenly introduced. With this volitional nature, the outcome was inevitable. Man would certainly choose the wrong path; it was only a matter of time. As a free agent, the will of Adam would surely, eventually incline against the will of God.
“The covenant of works rested upon the strength of man’s inherent righteousness; which though in innocence was perfect, yet was subject to change. Adam was created holy, but mutable; having a power to stand and a power to fall. He had a stock of original righteousness to begin the world with, but he was not sure he would not break. He was his own pilot, and could steer right in the time of innocence; but he was not so secured but that he might dash against the rock of temptation, and he and his prosperity be shipwrecked; so that the covenant of works must needs leave jealousies and doubtings in Adam’s heart, as he had no security given him that he should not fall from that glorious state,” (Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity, 3.17, II )
The Fall of mankind presents itself in Scripture in narrative form. As we have seen, God created man upright, reasonable, holy, innocent, and unashamed. He placed man in the garden and provided him with all good things necessary for a comfortable living and, indeed, with far more. He created him upright, which is to say that He wrote the work of the law on his heart (Rom. 2:15). However, this uprightness was subject to change. Unlike God, man by nature is fallible and mutable. Let to his own devices, man would inevitably choose against God.
“[God] had the right to test man at his will, and thus testing, to leave him to himself, without constraint to the contrary, to choose as he might see fit. This he did, and man fell; but his fall was not due to the lack of any natural perfection,” (Boyce, Abstract, pg. 217).
This fall was occasioned not merely by the moral law sown into the heart of man. Man was given also a positive law—a law uttered by the very voice of God: “The Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die,’” (Gen. 2:16-17; NASB). Had Adam continued in perpetuity in his righteousness and his obedience to this positive command, mankind would never have fallen into sin and misery. Man did take and eat, and mankind did fall into an estate of sin and misery, but it was not for lack of perfection. Rather, as we have seen, it was due to the introduction of the agency of free choice. We read about this great fall from man’s original state in Genesis 3.
“6When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she too from its fruit and ate; and she gave to her husband with here, and he ate. 7Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings,” (Genesis 3:6-7; NASB).
Our inclination might be to think that we would have chosen otherwise. If I had been created first, I would not have sinned like Adam did. We must be careful not to judge Adam too harshly. We tend to think that it is only the result of sin that causes a man and wife to endure such difficulties when they first marry. It is not only sin, but the competing of two different minds—two different wills. When free agency entered into the equation, a finite, mutable creature, the sin of our first parents was inevitable.
It was inevitable, but it was not excusable. In eating of this forbidden fruit, Adam rebelled against a holy, righteous, and beneficent God. God had given him everything, and yet Adam squandered it on a bit of fruit. We would all have done the same thing, but that does not make it right. Adam had sufficient knowledge of the One against whom he was sinning. He chose to sin anyway, plunging mankind into our current estate of sin and misery.
“Adam was brought into existence with a nature inclined to holiness, and a will able to choose either obedience or disobedience. He freely chose disobedience, and so sin originated, as it only could originate, in the free act of a free agent. It was at the beginning a voluntary act against sufficient knowledge. It was a free, inexcusable act of rebellion against the All-perfect and All-beneficent,” (A.A. Hodge, The System of Theology Contained in the Westminster Shorter Catechism, pg. 30).
Q.17: What is sin?
A. Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God. 1
11 John 3:4
Taking into consideration the fact that sin entered the world through our first parents, we now have set for us a scene, but with little doctrinal framework in which to couch it. We have seen that Adam and Eve were made upright and with volition, but that they used their free choice to sin against God. They sinned both against the righteousness with which He had endowed them and against the positive command He gave them when He placed them in the garden: not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
In these deeds they sinned. They demonstrated want of conformity unto God’s law and, further, they transgressed His law. They not only deviated from the uprightness in which they were created; they also willingly rebelled against God’s command. This was the nature of the sin of our first parents, and it is the persistent nature of sin to this day. All sins fall into these two categories. They are either want of conformity to God’s law or an active transgression of it.
“We may commit sin either by doing what we ought not to do, or by not doing what it is our duty to do. We may become guilty either by commission or omission. Want of conformity here means sins of omission, and transgression means the commission of actual deeds of sin. This two-edged definition is admirably observed and illustrated in the analysis of the Ten Commandments given in the practical parts of the Catechism. Under each commandment it is asked, What is required? and, What is forbidden? In other words, What is ‘conformity’ here? and what is ‘transgression’?” (Alexander Whyte, An Exposition on the Shorter Catechism, pg. 55).
When we arrive at our study of the Ten Commandments, then, it will be appropriate for us to consider anew this question and its answer as they relate to each commandment. For now, though, we will consider how they help us understand our sin more generally. We will consider them in two parts. First, we will consider how sin is any want of conformity unto God’s law and, second, we will consider how sin is transgression of God’s law.
Want of Conformity unto God’s Law
It has well be noted that men do are not sinners because they sin, but we sin because we are sinners. We have it within our nature to sin. There is a natural bent in man that turns him from the womb from God toward sin. “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me,” (Ps. 51:5; NKJV). All men are corrupt from birth, and naturally bent toward corruption. As a result, even our reason is fallen. Every faculty of our being is now enslaved to sin such that we now sin even without oftentimes thinking about it.
This is because our very nature is to sin. We are sinful beings. We are naturally aligned with the ways of the world and not with the ways of God. We have the work of God’s law written on our hearts, but our inclination is against it. Our natural inclination is against His law, because our natural inclination is against Him. This is the state into which Adam’s sin has cast us. Sin is such a part of our nature now that the natural man can fool himself into believing that no such phenomena as sin exists. This is the dilemma in which the natural man finds himself. He is so blinded by sin that he is blinded to sin. He is so immersed in it that he can easily forget it even is. Sin has become to him like a part of the backdrop, something that is always there, but never deserving of much consideration.
Nevertheless, it is always there. Man cannot escape the reality of sin; he can only suppress it in his unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18). Man’s sin is just that overpowering. It can poison the mind of man to the point that he suppresses the very reality of it. It is under the influence, then, of sin that man suppresses truth—in this case, the truth about sin. Nevertheless, it is always there.
“Sin is one of the saddest but also one of the most common phenomena of human life. It is a part of the common experience of mankind, and therefore forces itself upon the attention of those who do not deliberately close their eyes to the realities of human life,” (Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, pg. 227).
Sin is so deceptive that, even when men think they are committing righteous deeds, they only further defile themselves, having done them with sinful motives from sinful hearts. We are so deceived that we can convince ourselves, in our sin, that we will stand before God on the day of judgment and be accepted on account of our own righteous deeds. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
God sees all things, even the thoughts of man. “The Lord knows the thoughts of man, that they are a mere breath,” (Ps. 94:11; NASB), and, “Then the Spirit of the Lord fell upon me, and He said to me, ‘Say, ‘Thus says the Lord, ‘So you think, house of Israel, for I know your thoughts,’’’” (Ezek. 11:5; NASB). Nothing can be hidden from God. How foolish is the man, then, who thinks he will stand before Him on judgment day and be accepted on account of the deeds he has done in the flesh? If his iniquities are laid bear on that day, how will he stand (Ps. 130:3)? It is because he has, in his sin, deceived himself into believing that his sin is of little consequence. Perhaps he has even deceived himself into believing himself to be righteous.
“Sin is not only a defection, but a pollution. It is to the soul as rust is to gold, as a stain is to beauty. It makes the soul red with guilt, and black with filth. Sin in Scripture is compared to a ‘menstruous cloth.’ Isa. 30:22, and to a ‘plague-sore.’ 1 Kings 8:38,” (Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity, Q-14.2.II.).
All of this to say that, even in our thinking that we have not sinned, there is great sin to be found. The man that thinks he has not sinned is the man who has not truly assessed his condition before an infinitely holy and righteous God. In fact, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us,” (1Jn. 1:8; NASB). Thus, even the sins we do not know that we commit do not fail to be discovered because of a neutral imperceptivity on our part. We fail to discover our sins of omission, because we choose not to root out and destroy them. As such, they are no better than sins of commission, but actually compounded by our negation of duty to mortify them.
Transgression of God’s Law
Not only is sin found in the want of conformity to the law of God, but also in the willing transgression of it. We not only have deviated from the proper path, but we have run roughshod through the safety rails and into enemy territory. We not only know Lord’s requirements of us and have not met them, but know what He forbids and have engaged in it.
In sinning against God in this manner, men demonstrate themselves to be of their father the devil. Thomas Watson well wrote: “It fetches its pedigree from hell; sin is of the devil. ‘He that committeth sin is of the devil.’ 1 John 3:8. Satan was the first actor of sin, and the first tempter to sin. Sin is the devil’s first-born,” (Ibid., Q-14.2.I). When we transgress the law, we play the part first played by the devil. We dress up and rehearse the lines, walk out on stage and find our mark. We wait for the curtain to rise and, as it does, we assume the very persona of the devil himself as we look out into a dark auditorium to see the only face we can make out: our beaten and bloody Savior. The Savior we kissed. The Savior we betrayed. And yet the show must go on. So we play the part.
As we consider the devilishness of sin, and the love of our on-looking Savior, we ought to recognize another great evil in our sin. When we sin, we spurn the One who has given us all good things. “God feeds the sinner, keeps off evils from him, bemiracles him with mercy; but the sinner not only forgets God’s mercies, but abuses them,” (Ibid., Q-14.2.II.). Truly, our transgression are a trampling underfoot of Gods great kindness toward us.
Perhaps the greatest kindness God has done toward us, besides the sacrifice of His Son on the cross for our sins, is the giving of His Holy Spirit to indwell us. When the Christian sins, he goes even further than merely sinning against the God who blesses him. He also is said to grieve the God who indwells him (Eph. 4:30).
“Sin is said to grieve the Spirit; because it is an injury offered to the Spirit, and he takes it unkindly, and, as it were, lays it to heart. And is it not much thus to grieve the Spirit? The Holy Ghost descended in the likeness of a dove; and sin makes this blessed dove mourn. Were it only an angel, we should not grieve him, much less the Spirit of God. Is it not sad to grieve our Comforter?” (Ibid. Q-14.2.II.).
Our transgressions, our commission of sins against our Creator, truly are of a greater quality of evil than we give them credit. When we do not think them of great significance, we demonstrate just how truly sinful we are. The world would say that we are desensitized to our sins. We know, though, that the reality is that we are self-deceived. A desensitized person can scarcely be made sensitive again to the thing he has regularly exposed himself. At a single touch of the hand of God, though, a heart of stone is made flesh (Ezek. 11:19-20).
Sin has truly made men sick. It has weakened us, caused us to be rebels against our King, deceived us, and brought us to deceive ourselves. Sin is the great ruin of mankind, because it robs us of conformity to God and moves us to the point of transgressing His law. Sin is the condition in which we live, and breath, and have our being. For those of us who are in Christ, we have been freed from it, but we must still live in the environment of it and under the influence of it. However, our senses have been awakened to it. It has gone from being a sweet aroma of life to being a foul stench of death in our nostrils. We are ever in the presence of it, but thanks be to God that it stands for us as a reminder of His mercy and not our condemnation.
“It is this state of affairs that lies behind and makes necessary the work of Jesus Christ. This creation/fall background is the Bible’s context for the work of Christ on the cross. To deny either man’s original state of integrity or his self-willed fall into the state of corruption and misery is to rob the cross of the only context in which it has any meaning,” (Robert Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, pg. 457).
Q.18: What was the sin whereby our first parents fell from the estate wherein they were created?
A. The sin whereby our parents fell from the estate wherein they were created, was their eating the forbidden fruit.1
1Genesis 3:6, 12
Today, we arrive at the actual deed of our first parents, the deed that led to their descendance into an estate of sin and misery and ours. On the surface, there does not appear to be very much here. It seems fairly forthright. Their sin was that of eating the forbidden fruit. Let’s move on, right?
It is important, though, that we pause and consider the nature of this act and what it has to teach us about our own sin today.
Let us begin by considering the tempter himself. What do we know about Satan from other passages of Scripture that also bear true in this one? First, we should consider the fact that Satan was a guardian cherub (Ezek. 28:11-18). He was placed in the garden of God and was more beautiful than all the other angels of God, and yet unrighteousness was found in him. His unrighteousness was found in his desire to usurp God and assume a higher throne (Isa. 14:12-17). In attempting this coup, Satan and all his angelic companions secured their eternal fate.
Satan would be cast from the blessed presence of God, just as our first parents would later be. His ability to attack God Himself had proven impotent. However, he saw for himself yet another opportunity at the creation of man: the finite, temporal, mutable image of God. An attack on God Himself had proven pointless, so an attack on His image would suffice.
The second thing we note is the fact that Satan came as a serpent (Gen. 3:1). Now we must not think of the serpent as some ugly, green, slimy thing. This was likely not the case. The serpent was not likely even foreboding. The woman certainly did not fear to talk with it. She spoke with it, as Balaam’s donkey spoke to him. How though, in God’s garden, did Satan find ability to possess an animal and tempt our first parents to fall from their holy and happy estate? You may have missed it when we studied Question 16, but Boyce takes this temptation of Satan to be a clear test from God.
“[God] had the right to test man at his will, and thus testing, to leave him to himself, without constraint to the contrary, to choose as he might see fit. This he did, and man fell; but his fall was not due to the lack of any natural perfection,” (Boyce, Abstract, pg. 217).
Satan’s temptation of man was just that: Satan’s temptation. However, it is not as though God was removed from the equation at all. He had made man upright and perfect, but He made him with volition. Having been so made, God also purposed to test the man. He did so, not by forcing the hand of Satan, but by enabling him in his natural unrighteousness to tempt the man in a manner suitable to God’s purposes.
We ought not look upon God’s sovereignty over this event and find fault with Him, though. God does ordain all things whatsoever come to pass, even our temptations, but He is not the author of sin. He Himself tempts no one (Jas. 1:13-15). Furthermore, He does not allow us to be tempted beyond what we can handle, but always provides a way of escape (1Cor. 10:13). Our first parents were made upright and were not forced into their sin. They had a choice, and they chose sin. They were tested, and they failed miserably.
Third, we note the method of Satan’s temptation. He disguised himself by possessing another vessel, a vessel perhaps less suspect. This method is in keeping with everything we know about Satan. He does not show up with horns and a pitchfork declaring, “Satan has arrived!” Rather, we are told that he often uses other vessels and in so doing disguises himself as an angel of light.
“12But what I do, I will also continue to do, that I may cut off the opportunity from those who desire an opportunity to be regarded just as we are in the things of which they boast. 13For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. 14And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. 15Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works,” (2Cor. 11:12-15; NKJV).
Fourth, our Lord refers to Satan as a murderer. “He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him,” (John 8:44b; NKJV). Satan, in luring our first parents into this sin murdered them and all of their progeny. This one act was the greatest of all murderous acts ever committed.
The Nature of Our First Parents’ Temptation
When considering the temptation of Adam and Eve, we must pause to consider the nature of it. This temptation had less to do with the object or the culprit providing the temptation. Our temptations are never primarily external. The fall of man was not primarily external. We transgress the law and come to lack conformity to it as a result of allowing our hearts and minds to incline away from the revealed will of God.
Let us recall that Adam and Eve did not merely have general revelation at this point. They had been given direct, special revelation. The Lord told them not to eat of the tree. Had their sin been such that they only sinned against the light of nature, they would still have been cast out, but they had received direct, special revelation from God Himself, and still disobeyed. In A Body of Divinity, Thomas Watson theorizes that the fall must have happened on the very day that Adam and Eve were created, and he supports his theory with several proofs. Were this the case, the verbal command of God would be fresh on their minds. What could have facilitated such blatant rebellion?
The apostle John gives us three elements that are common among the temptations of this world, and all of them point to the human heart. “For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world,” (1Jn. 2:16; NKJV). Theologians have long noted that all three of these elements were present in the temptation of Eve.
We’re told that the woman saw that the tree was good for food. That is to say that her flesh yearned for it. She had an abundance of other fruit of which she and the man were permitted to eat in this vast, glorious garden, including the Tree of Life! Yet, her flesh was drawn to this tree, the forbidden tree. This tree, this one is good for food. This one appeals to my flesh.
The fruit was also pleasant to the eyes. Long before her first bite, she took the time to examine it, to study it, to caress it and even to devour it with her eyes. This was the woman giving herself over to the fruit in her heart and, in so doing, her choice was sealed. By giving in to this intent gaze upon the fruit that had been given her, she was given her very heart over to the lust of the eyes.
All that was left was for her to give herself over to the pride of life. At this point, we are told that Eve judged the tree “desirable to make one wise.” The serpent declared to her that, in the day that she ate of it, she would become like God. Oh, what a thought! Such thinking has led to the spiritual shipwrecking of many men. Such thinking is the root of all kinds of unbelief. It begins by appealing to man’s natural pride, and ends with their doubting of God’s worth by comparison.
Such was the temptation of Adam and Eve, but it is also the temptation we all face. As we have already noted, it is not primarily an external temptation. It is a temptation that begins in the heart. We hunger for unrighteousness, so we set our eyes on that which has been forbidden us and take possession of it in our minds—or rather allow it to take possession of us—and then, thinking ourselves to be wiser than God, we follow headlong after it to our own destruction. This is the nature of all temptation that leads to sin.
We must remember also that we have a common tempter as our first parents. They were made in the image of God, so the enemy of God attacked. How much more, then, should we expect to be attacked who are now being made over daily into the image of Christ? Christ was tempted at this very point. “If You are the Son of God…” We should expect to be tempted in jus the same way. Some come into the Christian life with the false assumption that things will get easier, but conversion is only the beginning of our trials. We now have targets painted on our backs and should expect the enemy to amp up our temptations.
When we are tempted, and even when we fail, it is important for us to always remember that Christ was tempted and prevailed. We inevitably give in; we have some form of release. Christ’s temptation, from this angle, was far greater than our own. He was tempted, and He was faithful to the end.
“15For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need,” (Heb. 4:15-16; NKJV).
Q.19: Did all mankind fall in Adam’s transgression?
A. The covenant being made with Adam, not only for himself but for his prosperity, all mankind descending from him by ordinary generation sinned in him, and fell with him in his first transgression.1
1Genesis 2:16-17; Romans 5:12; 1 Corinthians 15:21-22
When we considered Question 15, we made special note of the covenant that God first made with Adam. We noted the character and nature of that covenant and, especially, the conditions of it. Today, we will take particular note of the federal nature of Adam’s Covenant. From the outset, we must note that there are some disagreements with even the suggestion that Adam’s sin could be accredited to us. Some will point for instance to Ezekiel 18:1-4.
“1Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying, 2‘What do you mean by using this proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying,
‘The fathers eat the sour grapes,
But the children’s teeth are set on edge’?
3As I live,’ declares the Lord God, ‘you are surely not going to use this proverb in Israel anymore. 4Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine. The soul who sins will die,’’” (Ezek. 18:1-4; NASB).
This passage does not refer to the covenant God made with Adam. It does not even refer to the Mosaic Covenant. The error we see represented here is the idea of household covenants in which the children of unbelieving Jews were thought to be condemned by their fathers’ unbelief and sin. There are some who still hold to a form of this view today, teaching that God establishes His covenants with men on the basis of individual households (Gk. οἶκος). You may have heard some Presbyterians refer to themselves as paedobaptists (baptizing their infants). There are some who prefer to be called oikobaptists (baptizing their infants). God’s covenants are not made on the basis of each individual household in the Bible, though. Rather, each covenant is made with respect to one federal head who represents all of his descendants by ordinary generation. Such was the case with Adam and just a handful of others in the Bible.
Some might argue that it is not “fair” that they be lumped in with all of Adam’s progeny and, as a result of his one sin, be cast into an estate of sin and misery. They use this line of argumentation, perhaps, not realizing that they thereby undermine the very foundation and purpose of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. Apart from the federal headship of Adam, the federal headship of Christ is rendered impotent.
Adam was tasked with being fruitful, filling the earth, and subduing it. How was he to accomplish this feat? Through his offspring. Had he remained upright and partaken of the Tree of Life, he and his progeny would have lived securely on this earth. Likewise, when he partook of the fruit of the forbidden tree, he plunged all of his progeny into an estate of sin and misery. The remedy for our predicament must then be provided by a new Federal Head, and it has been provided. The Great Physician has come and provided the cure. The curse that was brought by the first Adam has now been broken by the last Adam: Christ (1Cor. 15:45). Take away the result of the sin of the first Adam for all those born of Adam, and you render void the result of the perfect obedience of the last Adam for all those born of Christ.
Federal Headship Asserted
In Adam, we do find that God has established a federal headship. As a result of this headship, every child of Adam is now conceived in sin. As we stated before, we are not sinners because we sin, but rather quite the opposite. We sin because we are sinners. We are sinners, because our first father was a sinner. This is the situation in which each son or daughter of Adam finds him- or herself since the fall, and it all began with one simple precept:
“16The Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; 17but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die,’” (Genesis 2:16-17; NASB).
Adam ate the forbidden fruit and, by so doing, he consigned all of his offspring, each one of us, to the dismal conditions of a crooked, perverse, and sin-soaked world. In his partaking of the fruit, he secured for himself a sure death, and so he likewise secured the deaths of us all. “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). This was the wage of Adam’s sin. It was the price that had to be paid, and we have been paying it ever since.
However, the wage is not merely a death of temporal life on this earth. The promise of sure death was not merely levied against Adam as a threat on his temporal life and ours. Rather, it was an eternal punishment that was in view. At the moment of Adam’s sin, he secured both his physical death and ours to be sure. He also secured for all mankind that they would be born into a state of spiritual death (Eph. 2:1), a state that would persist apart from divine intervention.
“If the just demerits and wages of sin was contained in the threatening (as no doubt it was) it could be no less than an eternal punishment that was threatened. For if that is not the desert of every sin, it cannot be due to any sin. The reason why the punishment of any sin is eternal is so that the penalty inflicted of the sinner may be adequate to the offence. The punishment has an infinity in its eternity, because the fault is infinitely aggravated, and that can only be in regard to its object. There is nothing that can be an infinite aggravation of sin but its being committed against a God of infinite greatness, glory, and goodness. And this aggravation attends every sin, as it is a sin against God,” (Nehemiah Coxe, Covenant Theology: From Adam to Christ, pg. 52).
Actual Sinfulness Asserted
We are not only condemned for the sins of Adam, though. We also stand condemned as a result of the actual sins that we each commit. Yes, we are sinners because of Adam. Nevertheless, we each sin and deserve the punishment that comes upon us. Some will again object and state the unfairness of the fact. They will argue that infants who die in their infancy or are miscarried in their mothers’ wombs never actually sinned and, thus, should not be treated as sinners by God. Though this is more of an emotional argument than a plea for consistency, such objections must be met with the utmost pastoral care and consideration. Our confession addresses this matter as such:
“Elect infants dying in infancy are regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit; who worketh when, and where, and how he pleases; so also are all elect persons, who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word,” (The Baptist Confession, 10.3).
Some, like Spurgeon, have gone further than the confession and asserted that all infants so dying are elect infants. Convinced as I am of the goodness of God, and knowing no greater good that this, I am of a mind to agree. Though some have pointed out that such reasoning makes abortion the greatest heaven-filling machine ever known to man, I persist in this belief. Simply because God uses an evil act for a good result does not mean that the evil act is then justified. Abortion is murder, but so was the crucifixion, and God used it to fill heaven with former sinners of all stripes.
When we talk about actual sinfulness, then, we are obviously referring to those of us who have survived infancy, who thus willfully disobey the light of nature with which we have been endowed by their Creator. Each of us are sinners, and none of us can distance ourselves from the vast sea of sinful men in which we are. We are fallen in Adam’s first sin, and we sin.
“What? Can you exempt yourself from the number of those whose feet are swift to shed blood; whose hands are foul with rapine and murder; whose throats are like open sepulchers; whose tongues are deceitful; whose lips are venomous; whose actions are useless, unjust, rotten, deadly; whose soul is without God; whose inward parts are full of wickedness; whose eyes are on the watch for deception; whose minds are prepared for insult; whose every part, in short, is framed for endless deeds of wickedness? If every soul is capable of such abominations (and the apostle declares this boldly), it is surely easy to see what the result would be, if the Lord were to permit human passion to follow its bent. No ravenous beast would rush so furiously, no stream, however rapid and violent, so impetuously burst its banks,” (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, pg. 179).
So we find that, in Adam, we are all sinners, dead in our sins, and worthy of eternal punishment. Furthermore, each of us have committed actual sin against our Creator in heaven, further solidifying our condemnation. What is the solution, then? None but this: “For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive,” (1 Corinthians 15:21-22; NASB). Let us then turn to the Federal Head in Whom we are made alive!
Q.20: Into what estate did the fall bring mankind?
A. The fall brought mankind into an estate of sin and misery.1
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.
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.
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).
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.
Q.22: What is the misery of that estate whereinto man fell?
A. All mankind by their fall lost communion with God,1 are under His wrath and curse,2 and so made liable to all miseries in this life, to death itself, and to the pains of hell for ever.3
1Genesis 3:8, 10, 24
2Ephesians 2:2-3; Galatians 3:10
3Lamentations 3:39; Romans 6:23; Matthew 25:41, 46
The catechism teaches that there are two prime aspects of man’s estate after the fall. Our estate is marked by both sin and misery. In our last lesson, we considered the sinfulness of our estate. In this lesson, we shall consider the misery of it. The Catechism delineates into three particularly miserable results of man’s fall: our loss of communion with God, our standing under His wrath and curse, and our subjection to the miseries of this life, death, and hell.
Loss of communion with God. Let us begin with a consideration of our loss of communion with God. The first instance we see in Scripture of man having lost communion with God is all the way back in the temple garden. First, we see the man and his wife hiding themselves in their shame from the presence of God, as a result of their sin against Him. The work of the law written on their hearts (Rom. 2:15; cf. Eccl. 7:29) moved them to shame, and they could not bear to be seen by Him in their disobedience.
Second, we find that God took their predicament even further. He not only created them with a conscience that bore witness to their sinfulness, but He cast them out of the garden of Eden—His very presence—and barred them from ever entering again. “So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life,” (Genesis 3:24; NASB). The way into the holy of holies, the innermost room of the temple of Israel, was also barred to all men. Only the high priest could enter it once a year to make intercession on behalf of the people of Israel (Heb. 9:6-7).
This is the predicament in which we find ourselves as well. We are each born at enmity with God (Rom. 8:7), our communion with Him having been broken through the sin of Adam our first high priest. We know that we are sinners, and the shame of that sin drives us from the presence of God in fear and dread of discovery. Furthermore, God has cast us out from His presence, and has barred the way to eternal life (Eph. 2:3).
Under God’s Wrath and Curse
We are barred from eternal life, children of wrath, because we are born under God’s wrath and curse. This is the second result of the fall brought to our attention by the Catechism in order to helps us understand the misery of man’s estate after Adam. We are not merely ashamed, nor are we merely cast out of God’s presence and barred from entering it anew. We are actually His enemies, hostile in mind toward Him and He toward us.
It has long been claimed, “God hates the sin, but loves the sinner.” R.C. Sproul, in a lecture that recently aired on Renewing Your Mind, stated in response, “He doesn’t send the sin to hell; He sends the sinner.” We must recognize this fact of man’s existence outside of Christ. Man, by virtue of his sin against an eternally, infinitely, immutably holy and righteous God, is under the wrath of God until he comes to Christ.
When Paul writes in Ephesians 2 that men are “children of wrath,” He does not mean that we are experiencing the wrath of God. What he means is that men are born with the certain expectation of God’s wrath, until such a time as they turn from their sins toward God and place their full trust and allegiance in Christ alone for salvation. They are born on a trajectory, in other words, toward the wrath of God that awaits all who are found to be stained by the world, the flesh, and the devil.
We are not merely born under the terrible expectation of His wrath, though. We are also born under the curse of the Law. “For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the Law, to perform them,’” (Galatians 3:10; NASB). Who though are under the works of the Law? In Romans, Paul makes clear who have the work of the law written on their hearts:
“14For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, 15in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them . . . 9What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; 10as it is written, ‘There is none righteous, not even one,’” (Rom. 2:14-15; 3:9-10; NASB).
So—whether Jew or Gentile, whether those who are born under the Law of Moses or those who instinctively do the things of the Law—all who are born in Adam are born under the curse of the Law. We have each received his curse. Sinning as we do, we each also have earned the curse. Let all who are outside of Christ, then, own it. Let them come under the great weight of this curse and the dread of impending divine wrath that they may see their need of Christ.
Subject to Miseries, Death, and Hell
This list given us in the Catechism follows a natural progression. As a result of man’s broken communion with God and the resulting enmity with Him, the wrath that now awaits him in his sin, and the curse under which He finds himself, he now finds himself subject to the miseries of this life, to death, and to an eternity of torment in hell. The consequences of the fall, then, are exhaustibly thorough. They fall upon the unregenerate both in this life and, if he does not bow the knee to Christ in this life, in the life to come.
Regarding the miseries of this life, these are a universal reality. A murderer may repent of her sins and come to Christ on death row. However, she will still be subject to the consequences of past actions. The same is true for all who sin before Christ. There are myriad expected and unexpected consequences for the sins we commit in the flesh. This is all the more reason parents should fervently pray for the salvation of their children at an early age. A deathbed conversion, be it genuine, is surely sufficient for the salvation of our children, but a deathbed conversion is of no guarantee. Many have gone to their deathbeds after telling themselves for years that they will one day repent and believe on Christ only to find that, in their final hours, their hearts had so hardened to the gospel that they could not bow the knee as they had supposed they would be able. Beyond the uncertainty of deathbed repentance is the certainty of compounding miseries that accompany the unrepentant life. Best that they follow Christ from their youth and be spared such miseries than, being strapped with a lifetime or regret and shame, to barely eek out a mustard seed of faith.
Regarding our looming death, we have all heard the statistic, “One out of one person dies.” None of us can expect to be granted the unique dispensations granted to Enoch or Elijah, being taken up without ever experiencing death. Unless Christ returns during our generation, we will each go to sleep with the saints who preceded us. Our deaths are yet another consequence of sin that cannot be avoided, even with repentance. Paul refers to it as the very wage of death: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord,” (Romans 6:23; NASB).
Death is not presented in Scripture as an event to be celebrated, as some denominations teach today. Death is a result of the fall, and it is a terrible rending of a soul from its eternal home. Paul refers to the state of man from the point of death to the final resurrection as a kind of nakedness and destruction of our earthly home (2Cor. 5:1-4). However, for those who are in Christ, there is a consolation. “We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord,” (2Cor. 5:8; NKJV).
The concept of hell should not be treated lightly. Those who find themselves outside of Christ on the day of judgment should not expect that they will be removed from the presence—that is the present activity—of God for all of eternity. God is omnipresent (everywhere present), which means that He is present also in hell. What will be removed from the unrepentant in eternity is God’s loving, forbearing, providential kindness and grace. What they will receive instead is only His justice and wrath poured out upon them for all of eternity.
In Scripture, hell is described as outer darkness (Mt. 8:12; 22:13; 25:30), a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth (Mt. 8:12; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30; Lk. 13:28), a lake of fire (Rev. 20:10, 14-15), an eternal fire reserved for the devil and his angels (Mt. 25:41), a place of eternal punishment (Mt. 25:46), etc. Hell is the ultimate, just consequence of any and all sin committed against an infinitely holy, incomparably worthy King, Master, Creator, and Sustainer. None among the descendants of Adam can stand and claim, on his own merit, the right to be exempt from this dreadful destination. It is our just reward for the sin we have committed, no matter how small, because the One against Whom we have sinned is deserving of nothing less than perfect obedience from us.
In closing, we must be careful not to press this point as the point of greatest concern in evangelism. Christ does not bid men to come to Him out of a dread of consequences. Our sin, misery, death, and future wrath are not sufficient to move us to godly sorrow over our sin. What is required is a godly sorrow (2Cor. 7:8-11) that can only be worked in us by an equal measure of the good news of Christ.
“Worldly sorrow is sad because people know about your sin. Godly sorrow is sad because God knows about your sin. Worldly sorrow is sad because of a disrupted relationship with a spouse, kids, or others. Godly sorrow is sad because of a disrupted relationship with God,” (Heath Lambert, Finally Free, pg. 38).
Yes, we must know our present condition in order to understand the goodness of the good news. Yet, it is the gospel that is the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16), and it is the kindness of God that leads men to repentance (Rom. 2:4). If the Lord wills, we will explore this great and glorious gospel in future lessons.