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We are now to consider the bearing which Adam’s sin had on his posterity, and its different effects. In Eden Adam acted not Simply as a private person, the results of whose conduct affected none but himself, but rather as a public person, so that what he did, directly concerned and judicially involved others. Adam was 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 generatively as their natural head, but also morally and legally as their moral and legal head. In other words, by divine constitution and covenant 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 that which Christ sustained to His spiritual seed—the one acting on the behalf of many.
The whole human race was placed on probation in the person of its legal representative and covenant head. This is a truth of great importance, for it casts light not only on much in Scripture, but upon human history too.
While Adam retained the approbation of God and remained in fellowship with Him, the whole of his constituency did likewise. Had he survived the appointed trial, had he faithfully and fitly discharged his responsibility, had he continued in obedience to the Lord God, then his obedience would have been reckoned to their account, and they would have entered into and shared his reward. Contrariwise, if the head failed and fell, then all his members fell with him. If he disobeyed, then his disobedience was charged to those whom he represented, and the frightful punishment pronounced on him fell likewise on those on whose behalf he transacted. Justice required that the whole human race should be legally regarded and dealt with as sharing the guilt of its representative, and subjected to the same penalty. In consequence of this arrangement, when Adam sinned we sinned, and therefore “by the offense of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation” ( Romans 5:18).
Instead of placing each member of humanity on probation separately and successively, it pleased God to put the whole race on formal trial once and for all in the person of their head. Probably it will make it easier to grasp the nature of Adam’s legal relation to his descendants if we make use of a simple contrast and analogy which have been employed by other writers on this subject. God did not act with mankind as with a field of corn, where each stalk stands on its own individual root. Rather He has dealt with our race as with a tree—all the branches of which have one common root.
While the root of a tree remains healthy and unharmed, the whole of it flourishes. But if an ax strikes and severs the root, then the whole of the tree suffers and falls—not only the trunk but all the branches—and even its smallest twigs wither and die. Thus it was with the Eden tragedy. When Adam’s communion with his Maker was broken, all his posterity were alienated from His favor. This is no theory of human speculation, but a fact of divine revelation: “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” ( Romans 5:12).
Adam, then, occupied a unique position. At his creation all his unborn children were germinally created in him. Not only that, but God entered into a solemn covenant with him in their name. The entire human family was represented by him and stood in him before the Lord. The future wellbeing of his progeny was suspended on his conduct. He was therefore placed on trial, to show whether he would promote the interests of his Creator or refuse to be subject to His government. Some test must be given him in order for the exercise of his moral agency and the discharge of his responsibility. He was made to love and serve God, being richly endowed and fully capacitated to that end. His supreme blessedness and continued happiness consisted in his doing so. Scripture proves that Adam did transact on the behalf of his descendants, and so stood in their stead before the divine law. What he did was in effect what they did. Or, as Manton expressed it, “We saw the forbidden fruit with his eyes, gathered it with his hands, ate it with his mouth; that is, we were ruined by those things as though we had been there and consented to his acts.”
ADAM AS HEAD OF MANKIND We propose to show, first, that Adam was the federal head of the race; second, that he entered into a covenant with God on their behalf; third, that the guilt of his original sin was divinely imputed to his descendants.
Concerning the first we confine ourselves to two proof texts. The first is Romans 5:14:
That is truly an astonishing statement. Occurring in such a setting it is startling and at once arrests our attention. With what accuracy and propriety could it be said that the father of our fallen race foreshadowed the Lord Jesus? Adam, when tempted, yielded and was overcome; Christ, when tempted, resisted and overcame. The former was cursed by God, the latter was owned by Him as the One in whom He was well pleased. The one is the source of sin and corruption to all his posterity, but the other is a fount of holiness to all His people. By Adam came condemnation, by Christ comes salvation. Thus they are as far apart as the poles. Then how was Adam a “figure” of the coming Redeemer?
The Greek word for “figure” in this verse means “type,” and in the scriptural sense of that term a type consists of something more than a casual resemblance between two things or an incidental parallel. There is a designed likeness, the one being divinely intended to show forth the other.
From all eternity it was foreordained that the first man should prefigure the incarnate Son of God. In what particular respect? Certainly not in his conduct. Nor in his natural constitution, as consisting of spirit, soul and body; for in that respect all who lived before Christ was born, might as properly be called figures of Him. The whole context makes it clear that Adam was a type of the Lord Jesus in the official position which he occupied—as the federal head and legal representative of others. In Romans 5:12-19 prominence is given to the one acting on behalf of the many, the one affecting the destiny of the many. What the one did, is made the legal ground of what befalls the many. As disobedience and guilt of Adam entailed condemnation for all who were legally one with him, so the obedience and righteousness of Christ secured the justification of all in whose place He served as surety.
And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.... The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven.... And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.
Again, despite marked contrasts between the type and the Antitype, they had something in common. The one had a mundane origin; the other’s was celestial. The former was but a man; the latter was “the Lord.” The first Adam was made “a living soul”; the last Adam is the Quickener of others.
In the one “all die”; in the other “shall all be made alive” (v.22). But that which marked each alike was his representative character—he was the head of an appointed seed, communicating his distinctive image” to them.
Adam is designated “the first man” not simply because he was the first in order-like the first day of the week—but because he was the first to act as the legal representative of a race. Christ is called “the second man,” though He lived so long afterward, because He was the second to sustain a federal relation to an appointed seed. He was called “the last Adam” because there is to be no further covenant head.
GOD’S COVENANT WITH ADAM A covenant was entered into between the Lord God and Adam: “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” ( Genesis 2:16-17). What are the principal elements in a covenant? A covenant is a formal compact and mutual arrangement between two or more parties whereby they stand solemnly bound to each other to perform the conditions contracted for. On the one side there is a stipulation of something to be done; on the other side a re-stipulation of something to be done or given in consideration of the former provision. There is also a penalty included in the terms of the agreement—some unpleasant consequence to the party who violates or fails to carry out his commitment.
That penalty is added as a security. Where it is not expressly stated, it is implied by the promissory clause, just as the promise is necessarily inferred from a mention of the punishment (cf. Genesis 31:43-53; Matthew 26:14-16).
Let us closely look at Genesis 2:16-17. Here are all the constituent elements of a covenant. First, here are the contracting parties: the Lord God and man. Second, here is the condition defined and accepted. As the Creator and Governor of His creatures, God was obliged to exercise His authority. Adam, owing his being to God, was bound to comply; and as a sinless and holy person he would heartily consent to the stipulation. Third, there was a penalty prescribed, which would be incurred if Adam failed to carry out his part of the compact. Fourth, there was by clear implication a promise made and a reward assured—“Do this, and thou shalt live”—to which Adam was entitled upon his rendering the required obedience.
Adam was placed not only under divine law but under a covenant of works. The distinction is real and radical. A law requires obedience, and punishment is threatened in proportion to the nature of the offense. A subject is bound to obey the law, but he cannot be justly deprived of that to which he has a natural right, except in case of disobedience. On the other hand, obedience to the law gives him a right to impunity, nothing more; whereas a covenant gives a person the right, upon his fulfilling the conditions, to the stipulated reward or privilege. A king is not obliged to advance a loyal subject to great honor; but if, as an act of favor, he has promised to elevate him upon his yielding obedience in some particular instance, then the subject would have a right to it—not as yielding obedience to a law, but as fulfilling the terms of a covenant. Thus Mephibosheth had a natural and legal right to his life and to the estate which had descended to him from his father, because he had lived peaceably and had not rebelled against David. But this did not entitle him to the special favor of sitting at the royal table continually, which the king conferred on him ( 2 Samuel 9:13). That was the result of a covenant between David and Jonathan, in which David had promised to show kindness to Jonathan’s house after him ( 1 Samuel 20:11-17,42).
It should be obvious that Adam had the promise of life upon his performing the condition agreed on, for “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” necessarily implied the converse, “If thou eatest not thereof thou shalt surely live.” Just as “Thou shalt not steal” inevitably requires “Thou shalt act honestly and honorably,” and as “Rejoice in the Lord” includes “Murmur not against any of His dealings with thee,” according to the simplest laws of construction, the threatening of death as the consequence of eating affirmed the promise of life upon obedience. This is an essential feature of a covenant—a reward guaranteed upon the fulfillment of its terms. Certainly the threat in Genesis 2:17 not only signified God’s intention to punish sin, but was also designed as a motivation to obedience; therefore it included a promise of life upon man’s maintaining his integrity. Had Adam been given no such promise, he would have been without a well-grounded hope for the future, for the hope which “maketh not ashamed” is always grounded on the divine promise ( Romans 4:18-20). Finally, Romans 7:10 expressly states that the commandment was “to life”—adapted to life, and setting before its complier such a prospect.
A few words need to be said here on the nature of that “life” which was promised Adam. In his original state he was already possessed of spiritual life. What then did the reward consist of? Two different answers have been given by the best of theologians. First, that it was the ratifying of the life which he then had. Adam was placed on probation, and his response to the test would determine whether or not he remained in the favor of God, in communion with Him, and continuing to enjoy his earthly heritage. Adam’s conduct would decide whether these conditions would be confirmed and then become the inalienable portion of both himself and his posterity. The second solution is that the “life” promised Adam connotes a yet higher degree of happiness than he then possessed, even heavenly blessedness.
Those benefits which Christ came into the world to procure for His people, and which are assured for them by the covenant of grace, are the same in substance as those which man would have enjoyed had he not fallen. This, we consider, is clear from these prophetic words: “I restored that which I took not away” ( Psalm 69:4). “The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” ( Luke 19:10). Christ came to secure “eternal life” (with all that that means), therefore that would have been man’s portion had he maintained his integrity.
This fact may also be concluded from the nature of that “death” declared in Genesis 2:17. When God said, “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die,” something far more dreadful than the loss of physical or even spiritual life was involved, namely, the “second death,” eternal punishment and suffering in the lake of fire. Conversely, the promised “life” included more than physical immortality or even the confirmation of spiritual life, namely, everlasting life, or unclouded fellowship with God in heaven forever. We agree with many able expositors that Romans 8:3-4 treats of the same thing. “The law” there looks back to that which was written on man’s heart at the beginning, of which the Sinaitic law was merely a transcript. The statement that the law was “weak through the flesh” alludes to Adam’s tendency to error. What the law “could not do” with such material was to produce an indestructible righteousness.
Therefore God in His sovereign grace sent His own incarnate Son, impeccable and immutable, to make full atonement for the guilt of His people and to bring in an “everlasting righteousness” ( Daniel 9:24) for them. Christ performed that perfect obedience which the first man failed to render, and thereby obtained for all His seed the award of the fulfilled law.
This point should remove any misconception that the view propounded detracts in the slightest degree from the glory of the Savior. Romans 8:3-4 is treating of something far more essential and weighty than whether or not Christ by His infinite merits obtained for us something more than we lost in Adam. Undoubtedly He did: our establishment in righteousness, our glorification, and much more. Rather that passage intimates the highest motive and ultimate end which God had before Him when He foresaw, foreordained and permitted our fall in Adam. Christ is the grand center of all the divine counsels, and the magnifying of Him is their principal design.
Had God kept Adam from sinning, all his race would have been eternally happy. But in that case Adam would have been their savior and benefactor, and all his seed would have gloried in him, ascribing their everlasting blessedness to his obedience. But such an honor was far too much for any finite creature to bear. Only the Lord from heaven was worthy of it.
Accordingly God designedly made the flesh of the first man “weak” or mutable and allowed his defection in order to make way for His laying our help “upon one that is mighty” ( Psalm 89:19), that we might owe our endless bliss to Him. Moreover, that obedience which Christ rendered to the law magnified it and made it infinitely more honorable than any mere creature’s conformity could have made it.
Further scriptural evidence that God entered into a covenant with Adam is found in Hosea 6:7, where God complained of Israel, “But they like Adam have transgressed the covenant: there have they dealt treacherously against me.” The Hebrew word for “men” there is Adam, as in Job 31:33. Adam was placed under a covenant, the requirement or condition of which was his continued subjection to God—whether or not the divine will was sacred in his eyes. But he failed to love God with all his heart, held His high authority in contempt, disbelieved His holy veracity, deliberately and presumptuously defied Him. He “transgressed the covenant” and “dealt treacherously” with his Maker. Centuries later Israel likewise transgressed the covenant which they entered into with the Lord at Sinai, preferring their own will and way, lusting after those false gods which He had forbidden under pain of death. Finally, the fact of Adam’s having stood as the covenant head of his race is conclusively demonstrated by the penal evils which came upon his children in consequence of his fall. From the dreadful curse which entailed upon all his descendants, we are compelled to infer the covenant relationship which existed between him and them; for the Judge of all the earth, being righteous, will never punish where there is no crime. “In Adam all die” because in him all sinned.
Having proved from Scripture that God appointed Adam as covenant head and federal representative of his race, we are now to show that the guilt of his original sin was imputed to all his posterity. Even if there were no explicit statements to that effect in the Bible, we would be obliged to infer the fact, for such a conclusion is inevitable from the principles involved. If the one was acting in the name and on the behalf of many, then the latter are legally responsible for what he did and must suffer the consequences of his conduct, good or evil. Had Adam survived the test to which he was subjected, had he remained obedient to his Maker and Lord, then his obedience would have been reckoned to the account of all his seed, and they would have been joint partakers of his reward. But if he revolted from the divine government and preferred his own will and way, then the punishment he incurred must be visited also upon the whole of his constituency. Such a procedure is neither merciful nor unmerciful, but a matter of righteousness. Justice requires that the penalty of a broken law shall be visited upon its transgressors. A precept without penalty is simply advice or, at most, a request; and compliance is merely a species of selfpleasing, not submission to authority. To divest the divine law of its sanction would be to reduce God to a mere supplicant—begging His creatures to behave themselves.
Not only had God the sovereign the to constitute Adam the covenant head of his race; not only was it strictly just and legal that its members should be held accountable for what he did, whether it issued in their well being or distress; but such an arrangement was fully valid. Since the loyalty and subjection of man to his Maker must be put to the proof, only two alternatives were possible: either the human race must be placed on probation in the person of a suitable representative and responsible head, or each individual member must enter upon probation for himself. G. S.
Bishop stated it thus:
The race must either have stood in full-grown man, with a fullorbed intellect, or stood as babies, each entering his probation in the twilight of self-consciousness, each deciding his destiny before his eyes were half-opened to what it all meant. How much better would that have been? How much more just? But could it not have been some other way? There was no other way. It was either the baby, or it was the perfect, well-equipped, all-calculating man—the man who saw and comprehended everything. That man was Adam.
Fresh from the hands of his Creator, with no sinful heredity behind and ~ depraved nature within him, but instead endowed with holiness and indwelt by the Spirit of Cod, Adam was well equipped for the honorable position assigned him. His fitness to serve as our head, and the ideal circumstances under which the decisive test was made, must forever close every honest mouth from objecting against the divine arrangement and the fearful consequences which Adam’s failure has brought down upon us. We again quote Bishop:
Had we been present, had we and all the human race been brought into existence at once, and had God proposed to us that we should choose one who was to be our representative, that He might enter into covenant with him on our behalf—should not we, with one voice, have chosen our first parent for this responsible office?
Should we not have said, “He is a perfect man and bears the image and likeness of God-if anyone is to stand for us, let it be this man Adam”? Since the angels which stood for themselves fell, why should we wish to stand for ourselves? And if it be reasonable that one stands for us, why should we complain when God has chosen the same person for this office that we should have chosen had we been in existence and capable of choosing ourselves?
Before proceeding further, it is essential that we realize that God is in no way to blame for Adam’s fall. After a thorough and extensive investigation Solomon declared, “This only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions” ( Ecclesiastes 7:29).
There the streams of human foolishness and sin are all traced back to their fountainhead of corruption. Man was created without irregularity or blemish; but he departed from his original integrity. And why? Because he vainly supposed he could better himself. Adam and Eve at first, followed by their crazed descendants, “sought out many inventions.” Significant and suggestive words! What are inventions but devices to improve things? And what gives rise to such attempts but dissatisfaction with present conditions? Our first parents meant to find a superior way of happiness by kicking off their traces. Instead of being content with what their Maker had given and appointed them, they preferred their own will to God’s, their inventions rather than His institutions. They relinquished their rest in the Lord and tried to improve their situation. They promised themselves liberty, only to become the slaves of Satan.
The course taken by our first parents has been followed ever since by all their children, as is intimated in the change from the singular number to the plural in Ecclesiastes 7:29. As indicated above, we do not regard the prime reference in that passage as being to the “aprons of fig leaves” which Adam and Eve sewed together, but rather to their original sin in being dissatisfied with the state in which God had placed them, vainly hoping to improve their lot by leaning to their own understanding, following the desires of their hearts, and responding to the evil solicitation of the serpent.
Thus it has been, and still is, with their descendants. They have turned from the Creator to the creature for their comfort. Having forsaken the living fountain, they engage themselves in hewing out “cisterns, that can hold no water” ( Jeremiah 2:13) , preferring the “far country” to the Father’s house. Their search after wisdom, their mad quest for pleasure, their pursuit of wealth and worldly honors, are but so many “inventions” or attempts to better their lot, and proofs of a restless and dissatisfied heart.
Had our first parents been content with the good heritage their Maker assigned them, they would not have coveted that which He had prohibited.
Still today the remedy for covetousness is contentment (see Hebrews 13:5).
We subscribe unhesitatingly to this assertion of Calvin “It is clear that the misery of man must be ascribed wholly to himself, since he was favored with rectitude by the Divine goodness, but has lapsed into vanity through his own folly.” God expressly forbade Adam to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. He plainly told him what would be the consequence of disobedience. God made man a mutable creature, yet not evil. Adam had ability to stand as well as to fall. He was fully capable of loving God as his chief good and of moving toward Him as his last end.
There was light in his understanding to know the rule he was to conform to. There was perfect harmony between his reason and his affections. It was therefore easier for him to continue in obedience to the precept than to swerve from it. Though man was created as capable of failing, yet he was not determined by God’s influencing his will, by any positive act, to apostasy. God did not induce him, but allowed him to act freely. He did not withdraw any grace from him, but left him to that power with which He invested him at his creation. Nor was God under any obligation to sustain him supernaturally or withhold him from sinning. God created Adam in a righteous state, but he deliberately cast himself and his posterity into a dismal state.
MANKIND GUILTY IN ADAM Adam took things into his own hands, revolted from God and trampled His law beneath his feet. It behooves us to study the relation between Adam’s action and the universal miseries consequent on it, for it supplies the clue to all the confusion which perplexes us within and without. It tells us why infants are estranged from God from the womb (Psalm 58: 3) , and why each of us is born into this world with a heart that is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked ( Jeremiah 17:9). It is because Adam forfeited his Maker’s approbation and incurred His awful displeasure, with all its terrible effects. In Adam we broke the covenant of works; we offended in his offense and transgressed in his transgression; and thereby we departed from God’s favor and fell under His righteous curse. Scott said: “Thus man apostatized, God was provoked, the Holy Spirit forsook His polluted temple, the unclean spirit took possession, the Divine image was defaced and Satan’s image imposed in its place.” Through the sin of its head the race was ruined and fell into a state of most horrible moral leprosy. Ours is a fallen world: averse to Cod and holiness, iniquity abounding in it, death reigning over it, lust and crime characterizing it, suffering and misery filling it.
In the light of Genesis 3 that is a strange and startling statement, for that chapter makes it clear that Eve fell before Adam did. Why then is it not said, “by one woman,” or at least “by one man and woman sin entered the world”? Because, as Thomas Goodwin long ago pointed out, “Moses tells us the history of Adam’s fall, and Paul explains the mystery and the consequences thereof.” In other words Romans 5 opens to us the significance and scope of the Eden tragedy. The opening word of verse indicates that a logical proposition is there advanced, which is confirmed by the “as” and “so.” The reason why no notice is taken of Eve is that throughout what follows, the apostle is treating of the condemnation of all mankind, not its debasement. That condemnation is due solely to our having revolted from Cod in the person of our legal representative, and since Adam alone sinned in that capacity, no mention is made of Eve.
Headship always pertains to the man and not to the woman.
Before proceeding, let us consider the relation of this most important passage in Romans 5. In the preceding chapters Paul had dealt at length with the depravity and sinfulness of mankind (especially in 1:18-32; 3:10-20) and had declared that even Christians in their unregenerate days were ungodly, without strength, enemies to God ( 5:6, 10). Here he shows why they were so, Adam’s offense being the cause and source.
Second, he had refuted the proud but erroneous view of the Jews, who regarded themselves as holy because they were the seed of a holy father ( 2:17-3:9). Consequently they lacked a true estimate of their desperate condition by nature and practice, nor did they sense their dire need of divine grace. Here the apostle takes them back to a higher ancestor than Abraham—Adam, who was equally the father of Jew and Gentile, both alike sharing his guilt and inheriting his curse. Third, Paul had presented the grand doctrine of justification by faith ( 3:21-31) and had illustrated it by the cases of Abraham and David. Here he shows Adam was a “figure” of Christ ( 5:14), that the one sustained an analogous relation to his race as the other did to His seed, that each transacted as the one for the many, and that therefore the gospel principle of imputation (Christ’s righteousness reckoned to the account of the believer) is no novelty, but identical with the principle on which God acted from the beginning.
Observe that it is not through but “by one man.” But exactly what is meant by “sin entered the world”? Three explanations are possible.
Second , sin as a principle of depravity: by one man our sinful nature originated. This is the view generally taken. But it is equally untenable, for the corruption of our nature is as much by the mother as by the father. Moreover, if such were the force of “sin” in the first clause, then the closing one would necessarily read “for that all are sinful.”
Furthermore, verses 13 and 14 explain and furnish proof of what is asserted in verse 12, and it would be meaningless to say that a sinful nature is not imputed.
Finally , all through this passage “sin” and “righteousness” are contrasted; and righteousness here is judicial and not experiential, something reckoned to our account and not infused into us. “Righteousness” in this passage signifies not a holy nature but conformity to the law’s demands; therefore “sin” cannot be corruption of nature but rather the cause of our condemnation. Thus, third, by one man guilt entered into the world, exposing the race to God’s wrath. “By one man sin entered .” Sin is here personified as an intruding enemy, coming as a solemn accuser as well as a hostile oppressor. It entered the world not the universe, for Satan had previously apostatized. “And death by sin,” which is not to be limited to mere physical dissolution, but must be understood as the penal consequence of Adam’s offense. All through this passage death is opposed to life, and life includes very much more than physical existence or even immortality of soul. When God told Adam, “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die,” He signified, first, to die spiritually , that is, to be alienated from the source of divine life.
Second, In due course, to die physically : the body shall go to corruption and return to the dust. Third, to die eternally , to suffer “the second death” ( Revelation 20:14), to be cast into the lake of fire, there to suffer forever. “And so death passed upon all men” because of their complicity in the one man’s sin. Not that death as a principle of evil gained admittance and polluted the nature of Adam’s offspring, but that the penal sentence of death was pronounced upon them. Having been charged with his transgression they must suffer its consequence. The apostle’s design was to show the connection between the one man’s sin and the resultant misery of the many. By Adam’s disobedience all men were constituted sinners— guilty criminals before God—and therefore sharers of the sentence passed on Adam. “In Adam all die” ( 1 Corinthians 15:22). Those words explain the clause “by man came death” of the preceding verse, and show that all die by virtue of their relation to the covenant head of our race—die because of their legal union with him. Even physical death is far more than “nature’s debt,” or the inevitable outcome of our frail constitution: it is a penal affliction, a part of sin’s “wages.” We are subject to mortality because we were “in Adam” by federal representation—we share his fallen nature because we share in his guilt and punishment. We are born into this world neither as innocent creatures nor to enter upon our probation.
Rather we come into it as culprits condemned to death by the divine law.
Every man, woman and child is judged guilty before God. The ground of our condemnation is something outside ourselves. Inward corruption and alienation from God are the consequence and not the cause of our condemnation. Antecedent to any personal act of ours (as such), we stand accursed by the divine law. Since “death” came as the result of “sin” because it is the penal sentence on it, that sentence cannot be passed on any except those who are guilty. If, then, death was “passed upon all men,” it must be because all are guilty, all participated legally in Adam’s offense.
Clear and inevitable as is that inference, we are not left to draw it ourselves. The apostle expressly states it in the next words: “for that all have sinned”—“for that” meaning “because,” or “in consequence of.” Here then is the divinely given reason why the death penalty is passed on “all men”: “all have sinned,” or, as the margin and the Revised Version more accurately render it , “in whom all sinned.” The apostle is not here saying that all men sinned personally, but representatively. The Greek verb for “sinned” is in the aorist tense, which always looks back to a past action which has terminated. The curse of the law falls on us not because we are sinful, but because we were federally guilty when our covenant head sinned.
In Romans 5:12 the apostle was not referring to the corrupting of mankind. It is true that as a result of our first parents’ sin the springs of human nature were polluted; but this is not what Paul was writing of.
Instead he went behind that, and dealt with the cause of which moral depravity is just one of the effects. A corrupt tree can indeed produce nothing but corrupt fruit, but why are we born with corrupt hearts? This is more than a terrible calamity: it is a penal infliction visited on us because of our prior criminality. Punishment presupposes guilt, and the punishment is given to all because all are guilty; and since God regards all as guilty, then they must be participants in Adam’s offense. George Whitefield put it well:
I beg leave to express my surprise that any person of judgment should maintain human depravity, and not immediately discover its necessary connection with the imputation, and how impossible it is to secure the justice of God without having recourse to it; for certainly the corruption of human nature, so universal and inseparable, is one of the greatest punishments that could be inflicted upon the species... Now if God has inflicted an evident punishment upon a race of men perfectly innocent, which had neither sinned personally nor yet by imputation [He would be unjust]; and thus while we imagine we honor the justice of God by re nouncing imputation, we in fact pour the highest dishonor upon that sacred attribute.
That “all have sinned” cannot signify all men’s own personal transgressions is clear because the manifest design of Romans 5:12 is to show that Adam’s sin is the cause of death; because physical death (a part of sin’s wages) is far more extensive than personal transgression—as appears from so many dying in infancy; and because such an interpretation would destroy the analogy between Adam and the One of whom he was “the figure,” and would lead to this comparison: As men die because they sin personally, so all earn eternal life because they are personally righteous! It is equally evident that “all have sinned” cannot mean that death comes upon men because they are depraved, for this too would clash with the scope of the whole passage. If our subjective sinfulness were the ground of our condemnation, then our subjective holiness (and not Christ’s merits) would be the ground of our justification. It would also contradict the emphatic assertion of verse 18: “By the offense of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation.” Thus we are obliged to understand the “all have sinned” of verse 12 as meaning all sinned in Adam.
If the federal headship of Adam and the imputation of his sin to all his posterity are repudiated, then what alternative is left us? Only that of the separate testing of each individual. If the race was not placed on probation in the first man, then each of his offspring must stand trial for himself. But the conditions of such a trial make success impossible, for each probationer would enter it in a state of spiritual death! The human family is either suffering for the sin of its head or it is suffering for nothing at all. “Man is born unto trouble,” and from it there is no escape. What then is the explanation of the grim tragedy now being enacted on this earth? Every effect must have a previous cause. If we are not born under the condemnation of Adam’s offense, then why are we “by nature the children of wrath” ( Ephesians 2:3)? Either man was tried and fell in Adam, or he has been condemned without trial. He is either under the curse (as it rests on him from the beginning of his existence) for Adam’s guilt, or for no guilt at all. Judge which is more honoring to God: a doctrine which, although profoundly mysterious, represents God as giving man an equitable and most favorable probation in his federal head, or one which makes God condemn man untried, even before he exists.
Examine the verses which immediately follow Romans 5:12. They are not only of deep importance in connection with the present aspect of our subject, but their meaning is little apprehended today, for they receive scarcely any notice either in the pulpit or in the religious press. In Romans 5:13-14 the apostle takes no notice of our personal transgressions, but shows the effects of Adam’s sin. In these verses Paul intimates that the universality of physical death can only be satisfactorily accounted for on the ground that it is a penal infliction because of the first man’s offense. The argument of verse 13 is as follows: The infliction of a penalty presupposes the violation of the law, for death is the wages of sin.
The violation of the Mosaic law does not account for the universality of death, because multitudes died before that law was given. Therefore as death implies transgression, and the law, of Moses does not explain all of death’s victims, it clearly and necessarily follows that the whole human race is subject to the penal consequence of the primordial law being transgressed by their first father. “For until the law sin was in the world” (v.13). The opening “for” indicates that the apostle is now about to furnish proof of the assertion made in verse 12. “The law” here has reference to the Mosaic law. “Sin,” as all through this passage, signifies guilt on the judicial ground of condemnation, and not the corruption of human nature. “The world” includes the entire race: all were accursed, and are so regarded and treated by the Judge of all the earth. Having stated in verse 12 that all mankind participated in Adam’s original sin, and that in consequence all share in its punishment, Paul pauses to vindicate and amplify his assertion that “all sinned in” Adam. The method he follows is by reasoning backward from effect to cause. The argument is somewhat involved and calls for close attention, yet there is no difficulty in following its course if we perceive that it moves back from death to sin, and from sin to law—the one being necessarily implied by the other. Sin was in the world before the law of Moses was given, as was evident from the fact that death held universal sway from Eden to Sinai. Note the oft-repeated “and he died” in Genesis Thus far the argument is simple, but the next point is more difficult. “But sin is not imputed when there is no law” ( Romans 5:13). The meaning of this clause has been missed by many, through failing to follow the course of the apostle’s reasoning. They have imagined it signifies that, though sin was in the world prior to Moses, it was not reckoned to the account of those who were guilty. Such an idea is not only erroneous but absurd. Where sin exists the holy One must deal with it as sin. And He did so from earliest times, as the flood demonstrated. “Sin is not imputed when there is no law.” Why? Because sin or guilt is the correlative of law. Sin or condemnation implies the law: one cannot be without the other. “Sin is the transgression of the law” ( 1 John 3:4). No one is guilty where no law exists, for criminality presupposes the violation of a statute. Thus, for any to be judged guilty is the same thing as saying he has broken the law. This prepares us for Romans 5:14, proof that a law given previously to Moses had been violated, and consequently God dealt with the violators as sinners long before the time of Moses.
Though it is true that there is no sin where there is no law, and that where there is no law transgressed there can be no death, yet it is a divinely certified fact that death reigned during the first twenty-five centuries of human history. The conclusion is so self-evident that Paul leaves his readers to draw it The human race must have transgressed an earlier law than the Mosaic. Thus verse 14 clinches the interpretation we have given of verses 12 and 13. Since men died prior to the Sinaitic transaction, there must be some other reason and ground for their exposure to death. Note that “death reigned ”; it held undisputed and rightful sway. If then men were justly subject to its power they must have been guilty. Death is far more than a calamity: it is a punishment, and that indicates the breaking of a law. If men were punished with death from the beginning, it inevitably follows that they were lawbreakers from the beginning. Moreover, death furnished proof that sin was imputed: men were guilty of Adam’s offense. “Even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression” refers to those who in their own persons and conduct had never violated any law by which their exposure to death could be accounted for. The word “even” here suggests a contrast. Generally speaking, death had reigned from Adam to Moses over all alike; but it did so even over a class who had not (in their own persons) sinned as Adam had. If we bear in mind that in verses 13 and 14 Paul is proving his assertion (at the end of verse 12) that death comes on all because of the first man’s sin, then his line of reasoning is easier to follow. The word “even” here implies that there was a particular class who it appears ought to have been exempted from the dominion of sin, namely, infants. Thus the death of infants supplied conclusive proof of the doctrine here taught.
Physical death is a penal infliction; falling as it does on infants, it must be because of Adam’s sin. On no other ground can their dying be accounted for. They furnish the prime demonstration that all sinned in Adam and suffer the consequences of his wrong.
At the close of verse 14 the apostle states that Adam was “the figure of him that was to come.” He foreshadowed Christ as the federal Head and legal Representative of His people. In verses 15-17 it is pointed out that there were contrasts as well as resemblances between the first man and Christ. “But not as the offense, so also is the free gift” (15a). The fall differed radically from the restoration. Though they are alike in their farreaching effects they are quite unlike in the nature of those effects. “For if through the offense of one many be dead [’many died,’ legally]” (15b). The “many” includes infants, and the fact that they die because of the one man’s offense proves that they are judged guilty of it, and that God imputed it to them, for He never punishes where there is no sin. “Much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many” (15c). Here the first contrast is drawn—between justice and grace. The “much more” does not mean numerically, as Christ cannot restore more than Adam ruined, for he encompassed the downfall of all his posterity. Nor does this “much more” signify that grace is more abundant and efficacious than the sin in its effects; that is brought out in verse 20. No, it is used argumentatively, as a logical inference and as a note of certainty. If God willed it that one man should ruin many, much more can we suppose it to be agreeable that His Son should rescue many. If many suffer from the offense of Adam, much more should we expect that many will benefit from the merits of Christ.
Thus it is not a “much more” either of quantity or quality, but of assurance and certainty. If it was arranged in the divine government that the principle of representation should operate though it entailed the curse, much more may we look for that principle to operate in producing blessing. If Scripture teaches the imputation of sin, we should not stumble when we find it affirming the imputation of righteousness. If God dealt in inflexible justice with the original sin, then, from all we know of Him, much more may we look for a display of the riches of His grace through Christ.
CHRIST AS MAN’S RESTORER “And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offenses unto justification” (v.16). Here the second contrast is drawn. Though there is a close resemblance between ruin and redemption, in that each was accomplished by one man, yet there is a great difference between the scope of their respective effects. The destroying power of the former did not go beyond the one sin of Adam, whereas the restoring power of the latter covers our countless iniquities. How vastly more extensive then is the reach of the free gift! This verse explains itself, the second clause interpreting the first. The divine sentence of condemnation fell on the entire human family because of the single deviation of their head, but believers are justified by Christ from many infractions: “having forgiven you all trespasses” ( Colossians 2:13). Christ does very much more than remove the guilt which came upon His people for the first man’s sin. He has also made full satisfaction or atonement for all their personal sins: “Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity” ( Titus 2:14). “For the judgment was by one to condemnation.” Each term needs to be carefully weighed. The word “judgment” obviously signifies a judicial sentence—pronounced by God—“to condemnation” and not to corruption or destruction of nature. The judgment “was by one”—not here by one man, but rather by one sin, for it is set over against the “many offenses” which we have personally committed. It is expressly asserted that judgment came by Adam’s initial transgression, and if all are condemned for that sin then all must be counted guilty of it, for the righteous Judge will not condemn the innocent. “But the free gift is of many offenses unto justification.” Where sin abounded grace abounded much more. The finished work of Christ not only provides for the cancellation of original sin, but acquits from the accumulated guilt of all our sins. Moreover, believers in Christ are not merely pardoned but justified—exonerated, pronounced righteous by the law. They are not only restored to their unfallen state, but given a title to enjoy the full reward of Christ’s obedience. As Adam’s posterity participate in his guilt, depravity and death, so Christ’s seed receive through Him righteousness, holiness and eternal life. “For if by one man’s offense death reigned by one [if by the offense of the one man death reigned]; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ” (v.17). Here is the third contrast: death and life, issuing from the heads.
Here the central truth of the whole passage is reiterated: Death comes to men not because their natures have been corrupted, nor because of their? own personal transgression, but as a judicial sentence passed on account of Adam’s crime. It expressly states that death reigned “by [because of] the one man’s offense,” and therefore everyone over whom death has dominion must be regarded as guilty. The word “reigned” here is very impressive and emphatic. Those who die are looked upon as death’s lawful subjects, for it is regarded as their king. In other words, death has a legal claim on all men. The forceful language of Hebrews 2:14-15 contains the same concept: “...that through death he [Christ] might destroy him that had the power [authority] of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them [free death’s lawful prisoners].” Note how this passage indirectly confirms Romans 5:14 which shows that death could have no dominion over infants unless they were charged with Adam’s sin. “Much more they which receive abundance of grace.” The “much more” of this verse emphasizes a different thought from that of verse 15. There it refers to God’s dealing with Adam and his posterity consistently with His own perfections. If God could righteously condemn all mankind because of the disobedience of their first parent, much more could He justify the seed of Christ ( Isaiah 53:10) on the ground of the obedience of their Representative. But here the phrase has reference to the modus operandi of condemnation and justification. If death has come upon us as a judicial infliction for an offense in which we did not actively participate, then much more shall we share the reward of Christ’s righteousness which we voluntarily receive by faith. There is a double thought conveyed by “the gift of righteousness,” which it is important to observe, for most of the commentators have missed the second. First, it signifies that righteousness is entirely gratuitous, neither earned nor merited. Second, it implies that it is imputed, for a gift is something transferred from one person to another.
Not only pointless but senseless is the objection that if righteousness were transferred from Christ to us it would leave Him without any. Does God’s gift of life to sinners leave Him without any? “Shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.” They who by faith receive the gift of His righteousness are not only saved from the consequences of the fall, but are partakers of eternal life and made joint heirs with Christ and sharers of His celestial glory. They who have been wholly under the power of death are not only completely freed from it and spiritually quickened, but as one with the King of kings they are made “kings... unto God” ( Revelation 1:6). They are not reinstated in the earthly paradise, but shall be brought to honor and glory and immortality in heaven-given title to a state of eternal and supernal blessedness. The careful student observes both a threefold comparison and a threefold contrast between the first and last Adams in verses 15-17. Both are sources of radical influence: “abounded unto many” (15c). Both are conveyers of a judicial sentence: condemnation, justification (16). Both introduce a sovereign regime: “death reigned,” “reign in life” (17). But by Adam we lost, whereas in Christ we gain. We were charged with the one offense, but are cleared from many. We were the subjects of death, but are made coheirs with Christ. By Adam we were ruined; by Christ we are more than restored. In Adam we occupied a position a little lower than the angels; in Christ we are established far above all principality and power. “Therefore as by the offense of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life” (18). In verse 12 only the first member of the contrast was given (vv. 13-17 interrupting as a necessary parenthesis), but here the case is stated in full. Throughout the whole passage Paul contrasts the states of divine wrath and divine favor, and not the states of depravity and holiness. He plainly asserts that all are condemned for Adam’s sin. Infants are therefore included, for they would not be punished if innocent-if Adam ,sin was not legally theirs. In precisely the same way all for whom Christ acted as their covenant Head are justified by His merits being legally reckoned to their account. As something outside ourselves is the judicial ground of our falling under the divine curse, so something outside ourselves is the judicial ground of our being under the blessing of God. The second half of this verse speaks not of something which is provided for all mankind, but of that which God actually imputes to all believers (cf. 4:20-24). “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous” ( 5:19). This goes farther than the preceding verse. There the causes of condemnation and justification were stated; here their actual issue or results are given. From verse 11 on the apostle has shown that God’s sentence is grounded upon the legally constituted unity of all men with their covenant heads. By the first Adam’s breaking of the divine law all who were federally one with him were made sinners. And all who were federally one with the last Adam are made righteous. The Greek word for “made” (kathistemi ) never signifies to effect any change in a person or thing, but means “to ordain, appoint,” “to constitute” legally or officially (cf. Matthew 24:45,47; Luke 12:14; Acts 7:10,27). Note that Paul does not here state that Adam’s disobedience makes us unholy. He goes further back and explains why this should follow, namely, because we are first constituted sinners by imputation. Romans 5:12-21 is one of the most important passages in the Bible. In it the fundamental doctrine of federal representation is openly stated, and the fact of imputation is emphatically affirmed. Here is revealed the basic principle according to which God deals with men. Here we see the old and the new races receiving from their respective heads. Here are the two central figures and facts of all history: the first Adam and his disobedience, the last Adam and His obedience. Upon those two things the apostle hammered again and again with almost monotonous repetition. Why such unusual reiteration? Because of the great doctrinal importance of what is here dealt with; because the purity of the gospel and the glory of Christ’s atonement pivoted on these points; because Paul was insisting on that which is so repulsive to the proud heart of fallen man. Plain as is its language, this passage has been wrested and twisted to mean many things which it does not teach; and Socinians, Universalists and others refuse to accept what is so plainly asserted.
Wherever this passage has been plainly expounded, it has in all generations encountered the fiercest opposition-not the least from men professing to be Christians. The doctrine of imputation is as bitterly hated as those of unconditional election and eternal punishment. Those who teach it are accused of representing God as dealing unjustly. What do the Scriptures say about it? As we have seen, Romansdeclares that death has come upon all men because all sinned in Adam (v.12), that “through the offense of one many be dead” (15), that “the judgment was by one to condemnation” (16), that “by one man’s offense death reigned” (17), that “by the offense of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation” (18), that “by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners” (19). “In Adam all die” ( 1 Corinthians 15:22). God deals with men on the principle of imputation. The sins of the fathers implicate the children ( Exodus 20:5). The curse of Canaan fell on all his posterity ( Genesis 9:25). The Egyptians perished for Pharaoh’s obduracy. Achan’s whole family died for his crime ( Joshua 7:24). All Israel suffered for David’s sin ( Samuel 24:15-17). The leprosy visited upon Gehazi passed to all his seed forever ( 2 Kings 5:27). The blood of all the prophets was exacted of the members of Christ’s generation ( Luke 11:50).
If there is one word which fitly expresses what every man is by nature, it is “sinner.” Waiving all theological systems, if we ask the popular meaning of that term, the answer is “One who has sinned,” one who makes a practice of sinning. But such a definition comes far short of the scriptural import of the word. “By the disobedience of one many were made sinners.” They are sinners, made so legally, neither because of what they have done personally nor by what they are in the habit of doing, but rather by the action of their first parent. It is quite true that it is the nature of sinners to sin, but according to the unmistakable testimony of Romans 5 we all are sinners antecedent to and independent of any personal transgressing of God’s law.
By the offense of Adam we were legally constituted sinners. The universal reign of death is proof of the universal power of sin. Yet death must not be represented as the consequence of individual acts of disobedience, for death reigns over infants, who are incapable of acts of disobedience.
Human probation ended with the original sin; in consequence, not only was human nature vitiated at its fountainhead, but all of Adam’s descendants fell under the curse of God, the guilt of his transgression being imputed to them.
No finite creature—still less a fallen and depraved one—is capable of measuring or even understanding the justice of the infinite God. Yet which appears to be more consonant with human conceptions of justice—that we should suffer through Adam because we were legally connected with him and he transacted in our name; or that we should suffer solely because we derive our nature from him by generation, though we had no part in or connection with his sin? In the former we can perceive the ground on which his guilt is charged to our account; but in the latter we can discover no ground or cause that any share of the fatal effects of Adam’s sin should be visited on us. The latter alternative means that we are depraved and wretched without any sufficient reason, and in such an event our present condition is simply a misfortune and in no way criminal. Nor is God to be blamed. He made man upright, but man deliberately apostatized. Nor was God under any obligation to preserve man from falling. Our salvation depends upon the same principle and fact: If we were cursed and ruined by the first Adam’s disobedience we are redeemed and blessed by the last Adam’s obedience.