Chapter 6: Of the Fall of Man, Of Sin, and Of the Punishment Thereof

dore-garden-expulsion1.  Although God created man upright and perfect, and gave him a righteous law, which had been unto life had he kept it, and threatened death upon the breach thereof, yet he did not long abide in this honour; Satan using the subtlety of the serpent to subdue Eve, then by her seducing Adam, who, without any compulsion, did willfully transgress the law of their creation, and the command given unto them, in eating the forbidden fruit, which God was pleased, according to his wise and holy counsel to permit, having purposed to order it to his own glory. (Genesis 2:16, 17; Genesis 3:12, 13; 2 Corinthians 11:3)

This chapter will address Adam and Eve’s disobedience and the drastic change it brought to them and their posterity. The paragraph begins by reviewing the state of mankind prior to the fall, as stated in chapter 4, Of Creation. God created man upright and perfect, and gave him a righteous law (i.e. the moral law) written upon his heart and a particular law to not eat the forbidden fruit, which was unto life had he kept it and threatening death upon the breach of it. This is the setting in which the fall occurred. Despite the seeming best of circumstances, and the clearest of instruction, Adam did not long abide in this honour. We do not know how long Adam and Eve remained obedient, but the sense from the Genesis narrative is that it was not a long time.

What precipitated this fall? Satan [used] the subtlety of the serpent to subdue Eve, then by her seducing Adam. Notice the links: Satan deceived Eve, then, Eve seduced Adam. We know from Genesis 3:1-6 that Satan used, in the words of the Confession, subtlety to subdue Eve. Subtlety means to be crafty using fine arguments.[1] Paul referred to this subtlety of Satan with Eve when he told the Corinthians: “that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs” (2 Corinthians 2:11 ESV). Paul again refers to Satan’s craftiness with Eve: “But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3 ESV). Satan, through his crafty use of fine argumentation, subdued Eve. She was deceived by these crafty arguments, submitting to them, leading to her disobedience. Eve then seduced Adam. How did she do that? Let’s look at the narrative: “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate (Genesis 3:6 ESV). It does not specify Eve’s actions or words to Adam. It does say that she gave the fruit to her husband who was with her.[2] Does the biblical text mean Adam was present when Satan was deceiving Eve? Calvin argues that this is not likely since Paul says that “Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived” (1 Tim. 2:14 ESV).[3]  It is more likely that Adam was close by, and Eve relayed the conversation she had with the serpent—relaying it from her deceived and skewed point of view.

Regarding Adam, the Confession indicates that he without any compulsion, did willfully transgress the law of their creation, and the command given unto them, in eating the forbidden fruit. Adam was not under any compulsion or power that would move Adam to sin. In other words, Adam still had the ability to perfectly obey God’s law; he had the “power to fulfill it” (see 1689 4:2). But despite that “power to fulfill” the command of God, Adam willfully transgressed the law of their creation. To transgress means to positively act against something forbidden by law.  Adam willfully transgressed the law of their creation.[4]  I understand this to reference the ‘law’ of God written on our first parent’s heart at their creation. Thus, by eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve they also violated the law written on their heart at their creation. Calvin states that based on the “reproof which soon afterwards follows, ‘Behold, Adam is as one of us,’ clearly proves that [Adam] also foolishly coveted more than was lawful, and gave greater credit to the flatteries of the devil than to the sacred word of God.”[5]  Thomas Vincent declared: “This sin of eating the forbidden fruit was such sin as included many other sins, as it was circumstantiated.”[6] Watson wrote: “One sin may have many sins in it. We are apt to have slight thoughts of sin, and say it is but a little one. How many sins were in Adam’s sin! Oh, take heed of any sin! As in one volume there may be many works bound up, so there may be many sins in one sin.”[7] Adam willfully transgressed the ‘law of their creation,’ and the command given unto them. Adam was expressly forbidden from eating the forbidden fruit. But the command to not eat the forbidden fruit is the exact thing Adam did, and there was no question as to Adam’s guilt in this regard.

We come to a real difficulty here, for mankind was made righteous and holy and yet they have now sinned. What happened within our first parents? R.C. Sproul states: “If Adam and Eve chose according to their desires, and if they chose an evil action, then they must first have had an evil desire. Where did it come from? Were they born with evil desires? Did God make them with evil desires? If so, then God is the author of evil. If an evil desire rises spontaneously within the soul of a righteous creature, we have an inexplicable quantum jump, what Karl Barth calls, die unmogliche Moglichkeit, “the impossible possibility.” That is why I throw up my hands. I have no idea what motivated Adam and Eve. Somehow good desire got twisted into a bad result.” [8] We ought to notice of this quantum jump, even if we cannot explain it fully, for it is a major turn of events.

Given the devastating judgment of God upon Adam and Eve and all their posterity, it is important for us to see the preponderance of evidence against Adam. Moses lays out the evidence in Genesis in such a way that there is no question that Adam was fully culpable for his disobedience. The New Testament confirms Adam’s willful transgression. The weight of evidence against Adam only makes Adam’s attempts to defer the fault foolish. First, he tried to blame Eve (i.e. “she gave me the fruit and I ate it”), and secondly, to blame God (i.e. “the woman you gave me”). God gave a clear command that was fully understood. Adam’s disobedience was not a mere matter of deception by Satan. It was a willful transgression, and as such God, who is just in all his judgments (Rev. 19:2), sent his judgment upon our first parents, and in them, all their posterity.

In the midst of the drama, we are likely to think all is lost by the fall. It is indeed a devastating situation; however, the Confession reminds us that even in the fall: God was pleased, according to his wise and holy counsel to permit, having purposed to order it to his own glory. God’s epic story has design; God has a plan in this tragedy—one that involves a greater good. God will show forth his glorious justice and mercy, bringing glory to the Triune Godhead by redeeming God’s elect in the midst of this devastation to the praise of his glorious grace.

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  1. 2. Our first Parents, by this Sin, fell from their original righteousness and communion with God, and we in them whereby death came upon all: all becoming dead in Sin, and wholly defiled in all the faculties and parts of soul and body. (Romans 3:23; Romans 5:12, etc; Titus 1:15; Genesis 6:5; Jeremiah 17:9; Romans 3:10-19 )

Our first parents, by this sin, fell. They were in a lofty position of perfection, being holy, righteous, with knowledge and fellowship with God. All of which only heightens the tragedy of the fall for all of that was lost. We can hardly over-estimate the loss which occurred as a result of their sin. The extent of this loss is the topic of the rest of this chapter, and as we continue, we will learn that their fallen state has been imputed and conveyed to all their posterity. As a result, we have a vested interest in understanding the fall and its consequences—not merely as a historical fact about Adam and Eve—but as a present reality for all mankind. If we understand the degree to which Adam’s race fell, then we will understand the need for radical redemption. Many Christians today do not grasp the magnitude of mankind’s corruption—treating it as if it were a mere superficial wound. And while all true Christians will understand that sin is the problem, many do not understand the extent and depth of it. But to not grasp the scope of the fall unwittingly leads to the glossing over the depth and breadth of the gospel—the becoming merely the gateway to Christianity, rather the substance of it.

The Confession declares that our first parents fell from their original righteousness. We know from chapter 4 that our first parents were created in righteousness. Their righteousness was inherent; it was not merely that they were considered righteous by God, but they were fully and actually righteous in word, thought, and deed. That kind of righteousness is so foreign to us that we can hardly grasp it. But our first parents had it, and to fall from it meant that they no longer had that original righteousness. As a result, our first parents fell from their original… communion with God. This is certainly the most devastating loss of all. That loss is observed in the Genesis narrative: “And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God (Gen. 3:8 ESV). The fellowship had been broken, and they were now alienated from God.

The 1689 Confession now shows that the threat of death was not an empty threat; indeed it came, but not just to Adam and Eve: and we in them whereby death came upon all. God had threatened death upon disobedience, but Satan lied to Eve, saying: “You shall not surely die.” Eve should have recognized this direct contradiction. And now the realization of God’s words set in—death indeed came. Did this death apply only to Adam and Eve? No, it came to all their posterity as well. Scripture declares: “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12 ESV). Our fall in them (i.e. we in them), means that death came upon all: all becoming dead in Sin. Paragraph 3 will discuss the imputation of sin to our first parent’s posterity, and so we discuss that important topic more specifically then. The death God threatened was specifically the dissolution of the soul from body. This dissolution (i.e. separation) of soul and body was not the state God intended for mankind. Because of sin, at death of a person the soul and body will be torn apart, but this dissolution will only be temporary, for Scripture tells us that there will be a final resurrection for all: “there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust” (Acts 24:15b ESV; see also John 5:28-29). This resurrection will reunite the soul and body separated at death; the just will be raised in honor (Phil 3:21; 1 Cor. 15:43), and the wicked to judgment (Jn. 5:28-29). Chapter 31, deals with the resurrection of the dead, if you are interested in looking ahead, but for now I simply want to point out that the dissolution of body and soul would never have come about, but by sin, and even in God’s permitting the fall, and subsequently death, he will yet resolve this unnatural state of dissolution. For the righteous it will be in glorification, but for the wicked it will be the final stage of judgment—both body and soul being cast into hell (Luke 12:5). By the phrase in the Confession: all becoming dead in Sin, we also understand that all have died spiritually—even before physical death.

In addition to both spiritual and eventual physical death, all are wholly defiled in all the faculties and parts of soul and body. With the loss of original righteousness, all the faculties and parts of soul and body became wholly defiled. Facilities and parts refer to the various aspects of body and soul: mind, emotions, the will, and so forth. There is no part of man, and no facility, unaffected by the fall. This is the doctrine of total depravity. Scripture says of all those now converted: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins(Eph. 2:2 ESV). Until converted, we are dead in our sins. As well, in Titus: “To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work” (Titus 1:15-16 ESV). Scripture points out that there is no exception—all are totally depraved: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one”” (Rm. 3:10-12 ESV). More will be said about the ramifications of deadness in sin, and of total depravity in paragraphs 3, 4 and 5, so we will expand upon these further as we continue.

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  1. 3. They being the root, and by God’s appointment, standing in the room and stead ofall mankind, the guilt of the Sin was imputed, and corrupted nature conveyed, to all their posterity descending from them by ordinary generation, being now conceived in sin, and by nature children of wrath, the servants of sin, the subjects of death, and all other miseries, spiritual, temporal, and eternal, unless the Lord Jesus set them free. (Romans 5:12-19; 1 Corinthians 15:21, 22, 45, 49; Psalms 51:5; Job 14:4; Ephesians 2:3; Romans 6:20 Romans 5:12; Hebrews 2:14, 15; 1 Thessalonians 1:10 )

Paragraph 2 indicated that by our first parents sin all mankind sinned, but it did not explain why that is the case. This paragraph explains why, and give us further details about the impact of that on their posterity. The Confession indicates: They being the root and by God’s appointment, standing in the room and stead of all mankind. “They”, of course, refers to our first parents.  It’s not just that Adam and Eve were parents, it’s that they were the first parents, and as such, they are literally the ultimate parents of all mankind—the root of all humanity. No other parents can claim that standing. The fact that they were the first parents placed them in a unique standing, a standing that was specifically by God’s appointment. The relationship of these first parents to their posterity was not merely natural, but it was also legal. It was legal because God appointed our first parents to represent all mankind by way of covenant—a legal agreement. Formally, this standing in the stead of all mankind is referred to as federal headship. Baker’s Dictionary of Theology states: “As the natural head, he [Adam] stood in a federal (foedus, Latin “covenant”) relationship to all posterity. His obedience, had it been maintained, would have transmitted an entail of blessedness to them; his disobedience involved them with him in the curse which God pronounced upon the transgressors of his law.”[9] A.W. Pink said it well: “Adam acted not simply as a private person, the results of whose conduct affected none but himself, but rather that he transacted as a public person, so that what he did directly concerned and judicially involved others. Adam was very much more than the father of the human race: he was also their legal agent, standing in their stead. His descendants were not only in him seminally as their natural head, but were in him also morally and legally as their moral and forensic head. In other words, by Divine constitution and covenant arrangement, Adam acted as the federal representative of all his children. By an act of His sovereign will, it pleased God to ordain that Adam’s relation to his natural seed should be like unto that which Christ sustained to His spiritual seed—the one acting on the behalf of many.”[10]

Because our first parents are the federal head of all mankind, the guilt of the Sin was imputed, and corrupted nature conveyed, to all their posterity descending from them by ordinary generation. The guilt of sin refers to the legal declaration that Adam had transgressed by eating the forbidden fruit. A.A. Hodge affirms: “By the word “guilt” is meant, not the personal disposition which prompted the act, nor the personal moral pollution which resulted from it, but simply the just liability to the punishment which that sin deserved.”[11] Imputation means to have something judicially declared and accounted to one. Such a judicial pronouncement may have nothing to do with the actual actions of the person so declared guilty. Adam’s posterity did not actually sin as he did, but nonetheless Adam’s guilt was imputed to them as if they had sinned. Thus at birth, or more precisely at conception, each of Adam’s posterity is considered guilty of Adam’s first sin.[12]

While our first parent’s guilt was imputed to all their posterity, our first parent’s corrupt nature was not imputed, for imputation does not change one’s disposition. Rather that corrupt nature was conveyed (i.e. transmitted) to their posterity. This transmission of a corrupt nature is based on the standing of our first parents in our stead. Thus their wholly being defiled is transmitted or conveyed to their posterity. It is conveyed by ordinary generation, in other words at conception, or as is more commonly said, at birth. The implications of this conveyed corruption to all Adam and Eve’s posterity can hardly be over-estimated. All we have to do is look at the Book of Genesis; once our first parent’s posterity arrived immediately sin was present: Cain killed Abel, entire corrupt civilizations developed, and by Chapter 6, God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the land—every intention of the thought of the heart was only evil continually (Gen. 6:5). There is an exception implied by the wording: descending from them by ordinary generation. All of Adam’s posterity naturally generated (i.e. naturally produced), are imputed with guilt and receive that corrupt nature. But the Lord Jesus Christ did not descend from Adam and Eve by ordinary generation. True Jesus is the Seed of the woman, but he is not of the seed of man. Since Jesus was born of a virgin, he was not of Adam, and did not fall under his federal headship; as such, Jesus did not inherit Adam’s guilt or receive his sinful nature. More will be covered on this topic when we arrive at chapter 8, Of Christ the Mediator.

The result of the imputation of guilt and conveyance of corruption to all our first parent’s posterity means that they are now conceived in sin, and by nature children of wrath, the servants of sin, the subjects of death, and all other miseries, spiritual, temporal, and eternal, unless the Lord Jesus set them free. The consequence then to Adam’s race is quite extensive. Let’s briefly cover each of these. Adam’s posterity is now conceived in sin. David said: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalms 51:5 (ESV). Each and every person after Adam and Eve, except Christ, is born into Adam’s original sin. As a result, they are by nature children of wrath. This does not mean they are by nature angry children, of course. It means that their very nature is at enmity with God, and as such God’s wrath abides upon them. Scripture states: “Among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:3 ESV). The corruption conveyed to our first parent’s posterity at birth, means that they are servants of sin. Since this corruption effects every faculty and part, they cannot free themselves from the bondage to sin, and thus they are slaves of sin. Jesus said: “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin” (John 8:34 ESV). As slaves to sin, they are the subjects of death. In other words, they will each receive death. Presumably, Confession is specifically speaking of the dissolution of body and soul by death of the body. They are also subject to all other miseries. These miseries fall into the three categories: spiritual, temporal, and eternal. Spiritual refers to those miseries inflicted on the soul, and even miseries of the body that result from spiritual matters. Temporal miseries are those in this in this temporal life. Of the greatest miseries are those miseries that are eternal, because they shall never end and will be experienced in the eternal flames of hell. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift, because all these miseries would be inescapable curses for Adam’s posterity, unless the Lord Jesus set them free. The sum of all these things remind us that the hope of the gospel is indeed good news. We are looking at the bad news of sin in this chapter, but by the end of the chapter we will, by God’s grace, be ready to flee afresh to the hope of the gospel freely offered.

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  1. 4. From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil, do proceed all actual transgressions. (Romans 8:7; Colossians 1:21; James 1:14, 15; Matthew 15:19 )

We now focus upon the cause of actual sin (i.e. sinful actions) in mankind. The core meaning of this paragraph is best seen by looking at the first and last phrase: “From this original corruption…do proceed all actual transgressions.” The clause in between these phrases explains the characteristics of original corruption, and by use of the plural pronoun “we,” explains that the corruption is in all Adam and Eve’s posterity. In other words, the “we” is talking about us. The phrase “original corruption” refers to the corruption that came to Adam and Eve when they first sinned. We will recall from paragraph 2 that by our first parents sin, they fell from their original righteousness and we in them became dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the faculties and parts of soul and body. Thus this paragraph explains what complete defilement looks like in their posterity; in particular, it shows that this corruption leads to all actual sin.

We are utterly indisposed…to all good. What does indisposed mean? It means to be “unwilling, disinclined, or averse to do something.”[13] We are not inclined to good, or to put it in the positive: we are averse to doing good. We are not just indisposed, but utterly indisposed. This means that we are completely, fully and totally disinclined to do any good. But that begs the question: if mankind is indisposed to do good, why do we see people doing “good” in this world? We need to define what is meant by “good” in order to answer that question. The Confession means here the kind of “good” that meets the standard of a holy God—which include the motivation. This “good” is not defined by human standards. Before the fall, Adam and Eve were able to meet that standard of a holy God, but after the fall original corruption made meeting that standard impossible. Scripture makes it plain: “None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:10-12 ESV). To be indisposed is to not “seek good” and to “turn aside” from it.

It is not just we are averse to good, but we are disabled to all good. We are completely and fully unable to do good. Paul in Romans declares: “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:7-8 ESV). It not just that the flesh (i.e. the sinful nature) is not interested in submitting to God’s law, it is that it literally cannot. Not only is Adam’s corrupt race utterly indisposed, and disabled to do good, but worse, they are utterly opposite to doing good. The Confession adds to this—as if in the same breath—that we are wholly inclined to all evil. What does it mean to be inclined? To be inclined is to be angled toward something. We might think of an inclined plane—a flat object often used as a ramp (a simple machine). If one were to place a round marble on an inclined plane, which direction do you think it will roll? It will, of course, roll towards the lower part of the inclined plane. In the same way, we are inclined in the direction of evil. To be inclined has to do with desire. Human nature is such that we make choices based upon what we desire. If we reflect upon the reason we choose one thing over another, we must conclude that it is based on desire. Perhaps, we might object to this by indicating that several times this week we got up early to go to work. “Surely,” we say, “that was contrary to my desire?” No, because even though we chose contrary to that desire, still the reason was that we desired a paycheck more than to sleep in. There is no escaping the desire-choice connection. Our nature is sinful is a factory of sinful desire, and it is open 24 hour, 7 days a week, and all year.

Why is it that after conversion, we were no longer wholly desirous of sin, but began to experience a new desire to do God’s will? It is because God changed our nature: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV). As a result, our inclinations (i.e. our desires) change which leads us to choose obedience. This is the sole work of the Spirit upon the nature of a person; regeneration changes our disposition and our inclination. When unregenerate people do “good” we do not it. If an unbeliever feeds the hungry, they do good, and there is no rational reason to deny that is a god thing. But their desire to act in a good way, nonetheless, comes from an unregenerate sinful nature; one wholly inclined to all evil, and as such, whatever motivates them to this good deed is was ultimately evil. Grant it, it is offensive to tell an unconverted person that their good deed is ultimately sinful, but if they were to weigh their “good deed” in light of a holy God to which they are in rebellion to, they might see things different. Isaiah 64:6b declares: “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment” (ESV). The unrighteous cannot produce righteousness, any more than a bad tree can produce good fruit. As we will see in the next paragraph, even the regenerate have remaining corruption, and so their good works are also mixed and tainted with sinful desires, but in Christ and by Christ, God accepts our good works.

The Confession concludes that from original corruption proceed all actual transgressions. Actual sin is the action of individually, voluntarily and personally violating God’s law.   There is a difference between imputed guilt and actual sin. Imputed guilt does not strictly result in actual action; however, conveyed corruption always results in actual sin. Original corruption has so penetrated every aspect of human nature, producing evil desire, and evil desire leads to willfully choosing evil. The will of man is so connected to it sinful desires that it is in bondage. The will of man cannot freely choose against its nature; it has no interest, ability or conception of doing so. It is this bondage of the will to sinful nature desires that is at the center of the Arminian Controversy. The Reformed claim that Scripture shows the will of man in such bondage to its sinful nature that it cannot freely choose to do good unless God supernaturally intervenes. The Arminian claims the will is not so severely enslaved to sinful nature desires, and that it can freely choose to do good and embrace Christ without the intervention of regeneration.

To be fair, the Arminian does not deny that the will is in bondage from the fall; rather, it claims that God equally gives to all mankind prevenient grace which then frees the will so that it can then freely embrace Christ in the gospel. Passages such as John 1:9; 6:8; 12:32 and even 6:44 are wrongly interpreted to support this view. This prevenient grace still does not explain why some people come to Christ and some do not—despite each receiving this grace equally. I can only conclude that ultimately those who come to Christ must still yet have something in them better than those who do not come. Prevenient grace, then, is a co-operation between God and man in salvation (i.e. synergistic). Ultimately, then, this view is man-centered in salvation, for salvation is given not as the result of the decree of election and effectual calling following that decree, but the free-willed choice of salvation by man.

We will save this topic for further discussion in chapter 9, Of Free Will, and chapter 10, Of Effectual Calling.

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  1. 5. This corruption of nature, during this life, doth remain in those that are regenerated; and although it be through Christ pardoned and mortified, yet both itself, and the first motions thereof, are truly and properly sin. (Romans 7:18,23; Ecclesiastes 7:20; 1 John 1:8; Romans 7:23-25; Galatians 5:17)

The corruption of nature just spoken of in paragraph 4—utterly indisposed, disabled, made opposite to all good, being wholly inclined to all evil—remains in those that are regenerated. Does this corruption remain exactly the same as it was prior to regeneration, or is it that only some of it remains? In light of chapter 9 and 10 to come, we know the Confession does not teach that the corruption is unchanged by regeneration, so then we understand that only some of the corruption remains after regeneration. The question, then, is: “How much of it remains? This is a vitally important question to answer for it relates very critical areas of our life, such as: conversion, repentance, sanctification and assurance. Perhaps we can best grasp how much corruption remains by reading the Apostle Paul’s own words which describe his struggle against remaining corruption: “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin” (Romans 7:21-25 ESV).[14] I think we can conclude that the degree of remaining corruption is significant based on Paul’s experience. Paul is not using hyperbole; rather, he is sincerely and honestly expressing the very real struggle he, and all the regenerate, have with the remaining corruption.

We see other passages in Scripture which confirm the existence of remaining corruption: “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7:20 ESV). “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8 ESV). “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Galatians 5:17 ESV). We cannot determine the mathematical percentage of remaining corruption, but we can see that it impacts our ability and consistency of fully obey God’s law. This knowledge does not provide an excuse to disobey God (1 John 2:1a), but it is the reason we often fail, and it is critical that we understand that. This ought to bring comfort in our struggle against sin, knowing that we do not need to question our conversion every time we sin.[15] Paul concludes after Romans 7: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1 ESV). It is the hope of Christ in the gospel that saves us from despair as we remember that: “if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1b ESV).

It may be helpful to look ahead briefly at Chapter 9, paragraph, lest we underestimate the change wrought by regeneration: “When God converts a sinner, and translates him into the state of grace, he freeth him from his natural bondage under sin, and by his grace alone enables him freely to will and to do that which is spiritually good; yet so as that by reason of his remaining corruptions, he doth not perfectly, nor only will, that which is good, but doth also will that which is evil.” Regeneration does indeed change us! We do not want to overlook that, but back in our present paragraph 5, the point is that as transforming as regeneration is, yet it does not eliminate original corruption entirely. If we hold out hope that our struggle against sin will be eliminated in this life, we will be sorely disappointed. It is better to face the fact that original corruption remains in this life. This means that until we die, or the Lord comes, this corruption will remain in us. Later, we will see that even in the work of sanctification, which causes us to live more and more in righteousness, this corruption is not entirely removed (see 1689 13:1). The fact of remaining corruption throughout this life may seem obvious, but some come from churches where the doctrine of entire sanctification (perfectionism) in this life is taught. Today, churches associated with the holiness movement tend to embrace or have sympathies, to varying degrees, with this unbiblical teaching. The Confession guards against this view in its own time, for the view of perfectionism has existed in one form or another throughout church history.[16]

The Confession states of this corrupt nature that it [is] through Christ pardoned and mortified. In Christ, this remaining corruption is pardoned. Christ died for all the sin of the elect; therefore, even remaining corruption is pardoned by his perfect work. Through Christ’s death and resurrection (our union with him in these) we are empowered to mortify the remaining corruption (see Rm. 6). But even though it is pardoned and mortified in Christ, the remaining corruption yet both itself, and the first motions thereof, are truly and properly sin. This means that the remaining corruption itself is truly and properly sin. As well, the first motions are truly and properly sin. What is meant by “first motions?” Since original corruption is the cause of actual sin, the Confession calls that primary cause the first motion of sin.  So not only is actual sin sinful, but the corruption which leads to it is also sinful. A modern version of the 1689 Confession, A Faith to Confess, states: “the corruption itself and all that issues from it are truly and properly sin. This is a helpful updated clarification. It is truly sinful, not just theoretically sinful. And it is properly called sin, for it is actually sin. Samuel Waldron affirms: “The specific point of the paragraph is…that the corruptions of the believers are sinful. This is probably asserted as over against those known in Puritan times as ‘antinomians’. One of their traits was to so emphasize grace and so to interpret the doctrine of justification as to deny that Christians sinned or had a sinful nature.”[17]

As we come to the end of this chapter, we should now grasp more fully the magnitude of the fall. We can see that the fall has left mankind guilty before God and wholly corrupt. Our corrupt nature is why we sin, and even the regenerate retains a degree of this corruption which will never be fully eradicated until death or the Lord returns. To grasp the degree of depravity from the fall is causes us to say with the disciples: “Who then can be saved?” 26 But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:25-26 ESV). The truths in this chapter provide a critical foundation for the next several chapters. As with each chapter, it is necessary that we take all we have learned, and bring it with us into the next.

_________________________________

[1] The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, 2 vols. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1971).

[2] Calvin indicates: “Others refer the particle (immah,) “with her” to the conjugal bond, which may be received.” John Calvin, Commentaries on The First Book of Moses called Genesis. Translated from the Original Latin, and Compared with the French Edition, by Rev. John King, M.A., vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2009), pg. 152. I am not persuaded the Confession means to infer that Eve seduced Adam by “conjugal bond,” though that is a possible interpretation of the biblical text. But that it is a possible meaning of the biblical text does not mean that it is the meaning. I take the Confession here to mean that Eve persuaded Adam by alluring argumentation—likely the same arguments Satan used to deceive her. Adam was, however, not deceived like Eve, and as such his disobedience was more culpable than Eve’s.

[3] John Calvin, Commentaries on The First Book of Moses called Genesis. Translated from the Original Latin, and Compared with the French Edition, by Rev. John King, M.A., vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2009), pg. 152.

[4] The phrase ‘law of their creation’ is not present in the Westminster Confession. It is present in the Savoy Declaration, and thus the framers of the Baptist confession appear to have adopted it from there; but they also added to the ‘law of creation’ the phrase: “and the command given unto them.”

[5] John Calvin, Commentaries on The First Book of Moses called Genesis. Translated from the Original Latin, and Compared with the French Edition, by Rev. John King, M.A., vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2009), pg. 152.

[6] Thomas Vincent, The Shorter Catechism of the Westminster Assembly Explained from Scripture (1674; reprinted, Edinburgh, The Banner of Truth Trust, 2004), 58.

[7] Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity (1692, reprinted, Edinburgh, The Banner of Truth Trust, 1997), 142.

[8]R.C. Sproul, Truths We Confess: A Layman’s Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith, vol. I, The Triune God (Phillipsburg, Nj.: P&R Publishing, 2006), 182.

[9] Baker’s Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983), 217-18.

[10] A. W. Pink, Doctrine of Human Depravity (Pensacola, Fl.: Chapel Library), 15.

[11] A.A. Hodge, The Westminster Confession: A Commentary (1869; reprinted, Carlisle, Pa.: Banner of Truth Trust, 2002), 112.

[12] Baptist Catechism 21 states: “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.”

[13] The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, 2 vols. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1971). See sense 5.

[14] Paul is speaking of his own experience as a regenerate person, for how could Paul in his unregenerate state claim to “delight in the law of God, in my inner being?” I found John Murray’s commentary especially helpful on this passage. John Murray, New International Commentary on the New Testament: Romans, one-volume edition (Grand Rapids, 1968), 239-273.

[15] This does not rule out the apostle’s inspired counsel for believers to examine themselves (2 Cor. 13:5; 2 Pt. 1:10-11, etc.). Along the lines of mortifying remaining corruption, I recommend reading J.C. Ryle’s, Holiness, and John Owen’s, Mortification of sin.

[16] See Gregg R. Allison, Historical Theology: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 520-41.

[17] Samuel Waldron, 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith: A Modern Exposition, 3rd ed. (Webster, Ny.: Evangelical Press, 1999), 103.

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