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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
J. L. Dagg
From Manual of Theology: A Treatise on Christian Doctrine, 1859
All men are born under the just condemnation of God. (Ps. 7:11; Mark 16:16; John 3:36; Rom 1:18; 2:5, 6; 5:12-21) The depravity of mankind unfits them for the favor and enjoyment of God, and that separation from him, in which the death of the soul consists, would be the necessary result, even if no declaration to that effect were made by the Supreme Judge.
But this sentence has been declared. The voice of Providence loudly declares it. The pain with which our first breath is drawn; the sickness and suffering which attend on the cradle; the sorrows and toils of our best years; the infirmities of age; and lastly death, which, if it does not terminate our course earlier, after threatening us at every step, and keeping us all our life-time in bondage, finally triumphs over us.
All these proclaim, in language not to be misunderstood, that we are under the displeasure of God. The curse of God rests on the very ground that we tread, and his wrath is poured out on our race in the wars, famines, and pestilence, with which the nations are often visited. The sentence is pronounced by the voice of conscience within us, which is to us as the voice of God: "For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things." (I John 3:20)
God speaks in his holy Word, proclaiming the sentence: "Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them."'(Gal. 3:10) "What things the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world become guilty before God." (Rom. 3:19) The view which is here presented of man's condition, relates not merely to his transgressions, but to his natural state. Hence it is said, "And were by nature, the children of wrath." (Eph. 2:3)
These manifestations of God's displeasure are of early date, commencing with the first woes of mankind. They may be traced to the first sentence pronounced on our guilty parents, when they were expelled from Eden. Paul has explained that we were all included in this sentence, and this is the proper date of our condemnation. "By the offence of one, judgment came upon all men to condemnation." (Rom 5:18) From that hour, the descendants of Adam, their habitation, their employments, and their enjoyments, have all been under the curse. Blessings have indeed been poured out in rich profusion on our guilty race, but our very basket and store have been cursed, and the, cup of mercies has been mingled with bitterness. The forbearance and long-suffering of God are manifested, but the hand of his wrath is uplifted.
The condemnation under which we are born is just. It is God's sentence, and all his judgments are righteous. It is not unusual for those who are condemned by human laws, to complain of their sentence, and we show our want of reconciliation to the justice of God, by our hard thoughts of God, when we either suffer or fear his displeasure against us.
Our rebellious hearts deny the justice of our condemnation, on the ground that God made us, and not we ourselves. If he did not create our souls directly with depraved propensities, he brought them into being, in circumstances which made their depravity certain. He gave us existence at his own pleasure, and over the circumstances of our origin we had no manner of control. It is therefore unjust, says the carnal heart, to condemn and punish us, for the sinful propensities which we bring with us into the world, or for the sinful deeds which naturally and necessarily proceed from them.
In this manner, we are prone to transfer the blame of our iniquities from ourselves to our Maker. So did Adam, "The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat," (Gen. 3:12) and so do all his descendants. Everyone is probably conscious that such reasonings have at some time had a place in his mind, and that it is difficult to exclude them wholly. On this account, they need a full and sober examination.
A consideration which ought to silence our accusing thoughts of God is that however much we may condemn him, we do not thereby acquit ourselves. If we admit that Adam would not have eaten the forbidden fruit had not God given him a wife, and if we even admit that God was to blame for giving him a wife who might become his tempter, still this does not exculpate Adam. His wife was certainly to blame for tempting him, and yet the guilt of his transgression is not the less on that account.
Every agent is responsible for himself. Distributive justice which gives to every man his due has no other rule, and can have no other. Human courts do not excuse culprits because of the corrupting influences which have led them to violate the law. The law takes direct cognizance of the agent and his deed. This accords with the common sense of mankind. So divine justice condemns the wicked man, and cannot do otherwise than condemn him, however he may have become wicked, and whoever else may be to blame for his being so. This principle we should hold fast in all our reasonings on that subject.
A difficulty in holding fast the principle just laid down, and applying it steadily to the case, arises from the circumstance that the Judge by whom we are condemned is also our Creator. To free our thoughts from embarrassment on this account, let us suppose the case were otherwise. Let us imagine that, after "the Sons of God had shouted for joy," (Job 38:7) at seeing the foundations of the earth laid, and its finished surface covered with verdure and beauty, the Most High was pleased to appoint one of this joyful choir to the honorable service of populating this new world, and to confer on him creative power for this purpose.
Let us imagine that, just as this chosen agent was proceeding to execute his commission, he conceived the thought of making himself the god of the world he was about to people, and for this purpose filled it with unholy inhabitants, willing to join him in rebellion against the Supreme Ruler. This case, though merely imaginary, will serve to test the principle under consideration; and the question which it presents for adjudication is, how, according to the rule of eternal and immutable justice, ought this world of rebels to be treated?
Perhaps it will be said that the agent who abused the creative power conferred on him ought to be punished, and that the creatures that he had brought into being ought to be annihilated. But this is not the plea which is set up for the human race. The plea which the sons of Adam present before the Judge of the earth is not that we ought to be annihilated, but that we ought not to be condemned and punished. This new order of creatures might object to annihilation, and think themselves as much entitled to life and impunity as we do. They might say that annihilation is only a scheme to get the question out of court, and to free the Judge from difficulty, but they might insist on right and claim, as they were created immortal by the commission granted to him by whom they were made, they have a right to immortality. And that this immortality, since their depravity is natural to them, ought to be free from all punishment.
Now, the Judge might for wise reasons not choose to evade the responsibility of adjudicating the case. What, then, would the righteous sentence be? Even to annihilate them against their will, would be a punishment that ought not to be inflicted, if they plead not guilty, because depravity is natural, can be sustained. The plea before an earthly judge would not stand a moment. Who could bear that a criminal should be acquitted and turned loose on the community, because he was born wicked, had grown up wicked, and it was as natural for him to commit theft, murder, and all manner of crimes, as it was to breathe? Such a plea, which the justice of men will not admit, the justice of God will not admit. The new order of creatures must be treated as they deserve, and Infinite Wisdom, instead of annihilating them, must adopt some other expedient, to counteract the diabolical intentions of the agent that created them.
The case which has been supposed is not so wholly imaginary as at first view it may have appeared. Though it is not true that an angel of light was commissioned to create a population for the earth, something else was done which, for all the purposes of the present discussion, amounts to the same. Adam and Eve, while yet in innocence, were commissioned to procreate a race of immortals that should people the new world. This power, Satan, ambitious of divine honor, availed himself of to make himself the god of the world.
By temptation he gained over the first pair to his design, and so completely is the procreating power with which they were invested, turned to his account, that the offspring of it are called the "children of the devil." (I John 3:10; John 8:44) So complete is his control of them, that he is called "the spirit that worketh in the children of disobedience," (Eph. 2:2) and they "are taken captive by him at his will;" (II Tim. 2:26) and the death which comes on them for disobedience is attributed to his power, "That through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is the devil." (Heb. 2:14) The imaginary case, therefore, is substantially our own, and, if rebellion against God, subserviency to Satan, and confederacy with him to overthrow the government of the King Eternal, cannot be justified at the tribunal of divine justice, we are verily guilty, and justly condemned.
But our accusing thoughts of God are suppressed with difficulty. We have seen that the whole world is guilty before him, and yet every mouth is not stopped. We still entertain hard thoughts, and vent hard words against him, and the thing formed says to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? (Rom. 9: 20) Of such impiety it becomes us to beware. We should feel that our depravity is our own, however we came by it, and that it renders us wholly unfit for the society and enjoyments of the holy place where God dwells, and for his favor, service, and communion; and that it ought to be loathsome in our own view, and must be so in the view of the holy God.
If our own hearts condemn it, we shall be ready to admit, without complaint, that God also condemns it. And what can we say against God in the matter? What wrong has he done? His distributive justice does no wrong in treating the unholy according to their character. If he has done any wrong, it must relate to the department of public justice, which, as formerly explained, seeks the greatest good, and is the same as universal benevolence. Now, who will say that God's plan will not produce the greatest good? Who is wiser and better than God, to teach him a preferable way?
When Satan gained his conquest over our first parents, God could have confined him at once in the pit, and inflicted on him the full torment yet in store for him, and he might have annihilated the whole race of man in the original pair. This would have terminated the difficulty by an act of power, but who will affirm that it would have been wisest or best? God would have appeared disappointed and defeated. Distributive justice would have appeared relieved rather than developed. Satan triumphed by artifice, and God has chosen to defeat him by the counsel of his wisdom. Satan exalted himself to dominion over the world; God chose to overcome him, not by power, but by humiliation. Satan gained his success by means of the first Adam; God, in the second Adam, bruised the serpent's head. Satan, by his success, gained the power of death; God, by death, the death of Jesus Christ, has destroyed him and his power. (Heb. 2:14)
Who will dare affirm that God's way is not best? It becomes us to feel assured, whatever darkness may yet remain on this subject, that God would not have given up his Son to free us from condemnation, if that condemnation had not been just, and that he would not have made so great a gift, so costly a sacrifice, if the scheme had not been worthy of his infinite wisdom. Or if some other, by which the sacrifice might have been spared, would have been preferable.
When the question has been settled, and the principle established, that men may be held responsible for their own sins, without inquiring how they became sinners, a difficulty still remains as to the date of the condemnation under which we all lie, and the ground of the original sentence. When the mind becomes perplexed with subtle reasonings, it is well to keep facts steadily in view, and to hold fast the plain testimony of inspired truth. It is expressly said, in the unerring Word, "By the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation;" and again, "The judgment was by one [offence] to condemnation." (Rom. 5:16, 18) It is here clearly taught that one judgment, one sentence, included all men, and that this judgment was made up and the sentence pronounced on one offence of one man.
With this express teaching of Scripture facts agree. The indications of God's displeasure against the race are not postponed until each individual has been born into the world. Every mother is not carried back to Eden before she brings forth a son, that he may, in his own person, receive the sentence of condemnation, be denied access to the tree of life, driven from the garden of delights, and doomed to sorrow, toil, and death. Whatever our reasonings may say on the subject, it is fully ascertained to be the will of God, before an individual is born into the world that when born, he shall be in the condition in which the curse left the father of the race.
The Bible, and the voice of Nature, speak alike on this point, and if our reasonings say that the Author of Nature and the Bible has done wrong, we should suspect that we have erred in our inferences, or in the premises from which they are drawn. And if it could be shown that a separate sentence is pronounced on each individual as he comes into the world, his condition would be no better. Being depraved by nature, we are "by nature children of wrath." (Eph. 2:3) Wrath is still our inheritance, and if the antiquity of the sentence which appointed it be admitted, the measure of that wrath is not thereby increased, nor the endurance of it made earlier. As to these results, the question is one of no importance whatever. Its relation, as exhibited in Scripture, to the doctrine of justification by the obedience of Christ, constitutes its chief claim to our careful consideration.
The sentence, "Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return," (Gen 3:19) was pronounced on Adam in the singular number; yet he appears to stand under this sentence as the representative of his descendants, on all of whom the sentence takes effect. So Eve was addressed in the singular number, "In sorrow thou shalt bring forth children;" (Gen. 3:16) but she stood, in this sentence, as the representative of all her daughters, on whom this penalty falls. As the natural parents, Adam and Eve stood together as the head of the race, but there was a peculiar sense in which that headship pertained to Adam. Though Eve was first in the transgression, it is not said by one woman, but "by one man sin entered into the world." (Rom 5:12) The judgment was not by the two offences of the two natural parents of the race, but by the one offence of the one man, the previous offence of the woman being left out of the account.
In this headship Adam is contrasted with Christ, being called "the figure of him that was to come." (Rom 5:14) This comparison is further brought to view in I Cor. 15:45, 47, where Christ is called the second Adam; and in verse 22, where it is said, "As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive." On Adam, who was first formed, the responsibility of peopling the new world with a race of holy immortals specially rested, and, though Satan artfully directed his first assault against the woman, his scheme would have failed had not Adam been gained over to his interest. This divinely appointed headship of Adam made his disobedience the turning point on which the future condition of his posterity depended, and Paul takes occasion from this to illustrate the dependence of believers on the obedience of the second Adam, for justification and life.
To this view it is objected, that, according to the principles of justice, the guilt of one man cannot be transferred to another, and no man can be justly condemned for that of which' it is impossible for him to repent. No man living can repent of Adam's sin, and the guilt of Adam's sin cannot justly be imputed to any other person.
What are here so confidently assumed as axioms may well be called in question. We must believe the Scriptures, when they say, "The Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all."' (Isa. 53:6) "He bore our sin in his own body on the tree." (I Pet. 2:24) And we know that men cannot repent of deeds which they have wholly forgotten, and yet they are responsible for them. But there is a much shorter way of getting at this question, than by a tedious examination of these assumed axioms. No man understands that the guilt of Adam was transferred. It still remained his, and was closely and inseparably bound about him. But everyone knows that there may be union and confederacy in crime.
In commercial affairs, if twenty men owe one hundred dollars, each may pay five dollars, and the obligation of the whole will be cancelled. But in morals, if twenty subjects confederate to assassinate their king, each one is guilty of the whole crime, because each one has the full intention of it. Only one of the band may plunge the dagger to the monarch's heart, but his crime may be justly imputed to them all, though his guilt may not be transferred to another. Now, we may inquire whether such union does not exist between Adam and his descendants, as justifies the imputation of his sin to them, or in other words, shows it to be in accordance with justice. Paul, in comparing Adam and Christ as public heads, has in the fifth chapter of Romans, pointed out disagreements as well as agreements.
Death comes from the disobedience of the one, and life from the obedience of the other, and in Rom. 6: 23, he teaches that there is an important difference as to the mode in which these results follow. Death is wages, a thing deserved; life is a gift. The benefits of righteousness and life, received from Christ, are by faith; and "It is of faith, that it might be by grace." (Rom. 4:16) The condemnation and death, which are from Adam, are not gratuitous and arbitrary, but come on us justly. We inquire, then, whether there is such a connection between Adam and his descendants, as renders the imputation of his sin to them, an act of justice:
1. There is a moral union between Adam and his descendants. His disobedience unfurled the banner of rebellion, and we all rally around it. We approve the deed of our father, and take arms in maintaining the war against heaven, which his disobedience proclaimed. He is the chief in this conspiracy of treason, but we are all accessories. As to the outward act, the eating of the forbidden fruit, we did not commit it, but regarding it as a declaration of independence and revolt, we have made it our own, and it may be as justly set to our account, as if we had personally committed the deed. In this view, if we cannot, strictly speaking, repent of Adam's sin, we may most cordially disapprove the whole revolt from God, in which our race is engaged; may most bitterly regret that it was ever commenced; and may take guilt and shame to ourselves in deep humiliation before God that we have been engaged in it. With such feelings pervading our hearts, the doctrine that Adam's sin is imputed to us, will not be rejected as inconsistent with justice. If we cannot, strictly speaking, repent of it, we may at least take the guilt of it to ourselves, in a sense which perfectly accords with the feelings of true penitence, and when the Holy Spirit has taught us to impute it to ourselves, we shall not complain that God imputes it.
2. There is a natural union between Adam and his descendants. He is their natural parent, and because of this relation, they inherit a depraved nature. Our moral union with him renders our condemnation just, from the moment we possess separate existence, because of our personal depravity, and our natural union with him rendered it proper, that our condemnation should be included in the general sentence.
3. There is a federal union between Adam and his descendants. We have before seen that a covenant, not in the common, but the Scripture sense of the term, was made with Adam. This covenant, this arrangement or constitution of things, made the future character and condition of his descendants dependent on his obedience. He was, in this respect, their federal head. Some maintain that the covenant with Adam was the covenant of nature, and that there was no federal headship, different from the natural headship which belonged to him as the first parent. Happily for us, a decision of this question is not indispensable to our present discussion. The natural and moral union which we have already considered, is a just ground for the divine sentence against the whole race, in the person of their first parent, but a further examination of this question may be conducive to a better understanding of the subject.
Since nature is not something different from God operating, it cannot be of much importance to determine how much of the transaction with Adam was natural, and how much beyond the proper province of nature. The revelation of God's will in the garden was as much above nature, as the subsequent revelation from Sinai, and so also was the judgment pronounced after the transgression. But the including of children with their parents, in the penalty inflicted for the sins of their parents, is seen in the providence of God, both in ordinary and extraordinary dispensations. Everyone knows that poverty and suffering are brought on children by the intemperance and other crimes of their parents.
The evils of war, famine, and pestilence, judgments inflicted for the sins of men, fall on children as well as their parents. In the deluge, and the burning of Sodom, children were destroyed with their parents. On this point, the word of God agrees with his providence. We are sometimes jealous for the Lord's reputation, and are afraid to speak of his visiting the sins of parents on their children, but we are more cautious than the Lord himself. He proclaimed from Sinai, with his own voice, and recorded in stone with his own finger, "I, the Lord thy God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me." (Ex. 20:5) And when he showed his glory to Moses, and proclaimed his name, instead of being jealous to conceal this fact, he was jealous rather to make it known: "Visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children. (Ex. 34:7)
God's solemn declarations on this point not only explain his providence, but in the most impressive manner exhibit the great responsibility of parents. To bring an immortal into being, and to form his character for time and eternity, is a responsibility most momentous. This responsibility devolves on men, and it is proper they should feel it. To awaken them to a sense of it, God addresses them in the solemn language which has been quoted.
While the Scriptures stir up parents to a sense of their responsibility, they leave to children no pretext with which to cover their iniquities. Some have said, "The Lord's ways are not equal. Our fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge." (Ezek. 18:2) To these complainers God said, "Behold all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine; the soul that sinneth, it shall die." (Ezek. 18:4) This is not a law repealing the Decalogue, but is to be explained in harmony with it. The sins of parents affect both the character and the condition of their children, and for all this they are responsible, but the condition of the children is not worse than their character, and therefore the Lord's ways are equal, and their complaints against him groundless.
The case of Adam differed from that of all fathers since. These may transmit peculiar tempers and propensities, and may influence their children by instruction and example, but they cannot bring them into the world free from the depravity and condemnation which the transgression of Adam brings upon them. But, though the responsibility on Adam was greater, it is still true, as in the other cases that his descendants are responsible for themselves, and not one of them will suffer beyond the demerit of his personal character. Such is the union between Adam and his descendants, that depravity and condemnation pass from him to them, not separately, but as one inheritance. His sin, for which they suffer, is their own as well as his, and it is imputed to them because it belongs to them — is justly theirs.
After all the explanations that have been made, it may be that our hearts still accuse God, and secretly say that, had we been in his stead, we would have dealt more kindly with the human race than he has done. These accusations of God, he hears. These most secret whispers of the heart, he fully understands. What impiety does he see therein! That we, who know so little of his ways, should presume to be wiser or better than he, is daring impiety, and if nothing else will convince us that we deserve the wrath of God, let this impiety suffice. Let us accuse no more, but lay our hands on our mouths, and in deep silence before him, confess our guilt.