Catechetical sermons preached in PCC Evening Worship Services, Feb 2013 to Dec 2017
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12 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: … 18 Therefore as by the offence 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. 19 For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous. 20 Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: 21 That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.Romans 5:12-21
WSC 16. Did all mankind fall in Adam’s first transgression?
A. The covenant being made with Adam, not only for himself, but for his posterity; all mankind, descending from him by ordinary generation, sinned in him, and fell with him, in his first transgression.11 Gen 2:16,17; Rom 5:12; 1 Cor 15:21,22
Our first parents fell into sin. They fell by disobeying God and eating the forbidden fruit (WSC 13-15). We know the story very well. Even our children can tell us the story. But the question we must ask ourselves is: What has their fall got to do with us? God commanded Adam not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil upon the pains of death. He disobeyed God. He ate the fruit. He suffered spiritual death. He could no longer enjoy God’s friendship. He hid from God. And eventually, he died and returned to the dust. But what has that got to do with us?
This is the great question that the eminent apostle Paul is trying to answer in the middle of his marvellous epistle to the Romans. The Lord helping us, we want to consider his inspired answer in this sermon. Our text is from Romans 5:12-21. As we consider this passage, we will see, I believe, something of how the Westminster divines derived the answer to Question 16 of our shorter Catechism: “Did all mankind fall in Adam’s first transgression?”
We may summarise what Paul says in this passage with three broad propositions. First, sin and death came through Adam. Secondly, Adam’s sin was imputed to all mankind. Thirdly, there is hope for some.
Let us consider how these three propositions are conveyed by the apostle Paul.
1. Sin & Death Came Through Adam
To see this point, we must begin by stepping back a little to see what led Paul to the passage we are considering.
Let’s begin with the theme of this letter. What is the theme? The central theme of Romans is, no doubt, the doctrine of justification. The doctrine of justification teaches us that the ground of man’s acceptance with God is not in himself, but in Christ alone. The believer is still a sinner, but he is covered by the garment of Christ’s righteousness. He is accepted not because he is good, but because Christ is good.
Paul deals exhaustively with the subject in chapters 3 and 4 of this letter. We will have occasion to study these chapters later on in our series. But for now, note how in chapter 5, Paul has begun to describe the effects and blessings of justification. He tells us, for example, that those who are justified by grace through faith in Christ have peace, hope, love and joy in Christ.
But now we come to verse 12, and Paul appears to enter a different subject altogether. Most commentators believe that this passage is a kind of excursus to the main flow of Paul’s discussion. I believe this is right. Paul has been talking about the benefits and effects of justification. But now, he is taking a break to add another piece of the puzzle to the doctrine of justification. He will resume talking about the benefits and effects of justification in Chapter 6. But for now, he is stepping back to deal with an important question that may be lingering in the mind of anyone who reads his letter. The question concerns the relationship between Adam and Christ, and between sin and righteousness. How do these things tie together in God’s grand scheme for our salvation?
Paul answers that Adam and Christ are both covenant heads. He says in 1 Corinthians 15:22—“For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive”. Adam represented all mankind in a covenant of life, wherein life is promised for perfect obedience. On the other hand, Christ represented all the elect in a covenant of grace, wherein eternal life is freely given on the basis of Christ’s perfect obedience.
You can see this comparison clearly if you read our text without the verses in parenthesis from verses 13-17. Listen to our text without the parenthesis:
12 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:…
18 Therefore as by the offence 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. 19 For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.”
Can you see the comparison? Adam brought death through his sin; Christ brought life through His righteousness.
So here we have the answer to our question as to the significance of the sin of Adam. Adam’s sin resulted in sin and death for all mankind. You and I are sinners because of Adam’s sin. You and I deserve to die because of Adam’s first sin. This is the significance of Adam’s sin in the Garden of Eden.
But how did Adam bring death through his sin? Did God really look upon us as sinners because of Adam’s sin? Isn’t that unfair? Or did death pass upon all men in that Adam became an example so that anyone who imitates him to sin would die like him? The liberals of Christendom hold to this view. They believe that every man has a free choice and chance to choose. No one is disadvantaged because of Adam, even if such a person exists. They say it would be unfair and unjust of God to punish anyone for Adam’s sin.
Well, what does the apostle Paul say?
2. Adam’s Sin Is Imputed to All Mankind
Paul says, verse 12:
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.
Who is this one man? Clearly, he is Adam. Why does Paul not mention Eve? Because Eve is not a representative of mankind. Adam was. He was no ordinary person. He was the head of the human federation.
When he sinned, “sin entered into the world.” And as the wages or punishment of sin is death, “death passed upon all men.”
“Death passed upon all men,” says Paul, “for that all have sinned” (v. 12).
Remember that Paul does not say: “Death passed upon all men, for that all began to sin.” If he had said this, then the theory that man sins by imitating Adam would hold true. But no, he says, “Death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.”
Paul clearly states that all mankind became sinners in Adam, and became guilty of death in Adam. Why did this happen? It happened because Adam was our representative. He was the head of the human federation. He represented mankind, just as the President of Singapore represents the nation of Singapore. If the President of Singapore declares war against Indonesia, then Singapore will be at war against Indonesia, and all of us will become enemies of Indonesia.
Adam declared war against God by eating the forbidden fruit. All mankind became enemies of God. All mankind is regarded as guilty before God because of Adam’s sin. Or in other words, Adam’s guilt was imputed to all men.1 Adam was the gang leader. When he rebelled against God, all mankind became God’s enemies.
All men die because all man is regarded as sinners. After all, Adam sinned. But is this a doctrine invented by Paul? No, no; if we’ve learned anything about biblical theology, we will realise that the writers of the New Testament do not invent anything new. The New Testament does not introduce any significant doctrine not found in the Old Testament. Sometimes it clarifies Old Testament doctrine, but it does not introduce anything completely new.
But still, this doctrine of God’s dealing with all mankind on account of Adam’s fall would sound quite new to the Jews. It does not sound new to us because most of us have heard it many times. But for the Jew who only had the Old Testament, it does not seem to be taught in the Old Testament. In fact, in the prophecy of Ezekiel, we are told:
The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son.Ezek 18:20
How, then, can it be true that we are regarded as sinners because of Adam’s sin? Unless Paul answers this question, he would lose the hearing of the Jews completely, for they would have too great a respect for the Old Testament than to entertain anything that cannot be proven by it.
This is why Paul pauses to show that the doctrine has always been in the Scriptures. Look at verses 13-14:
For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come.
What is he saying? He is saying that the written law was given only at the time of Moses. The written law tells us, not only what man is to do, but also the punishment for breaking the law. “For where no law is, there is no transgression,” says Paul in chapter 4 (Rom 4:15). Now, since the law was only given at the time of Moses, no one would have been punished for any specific trespass of the Law.
But many people between Adam and Moses died. How do you explain their death? Before Moses, there were only two clear statements of death as a punishment for sin. The first is in Genesis 2, where God warned Adam that he would die if he ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The second is in Genesis 9, where God warned that murderers must die. Notice that God did not execute Cain because the law that requires murderers to be executed came only later.
There were no other laws requiring death until Moses. And yet death reigned from Adam to Moses. Everyone died. Yet apart from Adam and Eve, none of those who died ate of the forbidden fruit. “Death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression,” observes Paul.
Some could, indeed, have committed murder after the flood, but the vast majority died though they did not break any law with death stipulated as a penalty. They did not sin after the manner of Adam. They did not sin a sin that carried the death penalty. How, then, do you explain their death?
Paul answers that all men sinned in Adam and died because Adam’s guilt was imputed on them. All men die because we are regarded as guilty in Adam. Adam, you see, is no ordinary man. If an ordinary man sinned, his sin would not be imputed to his posterity, as Ezekiel informs us. But Adam was in a unique position. He is the figure of him that was to come. As Christ is a representative covenant head, so is Adam.
This doctrine is summarised in the Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 16, “Did all mankind fall in Adam’s first transgression?”
“The covenant being made with Adam, not only for himself, but for his posterity; all mankind, descending from him by ordinary generation, sinned in him, and fell with him, in his first transgression.”
Adam, the covenant head of all mankind descending from him by ordinary generation, fell into sin, and as a result, all men are guilty in God’s eyes.
And not only so, because we are guilty, we also inherit Adam’s sinful nature so that we are not only sinful in status, but sinful in nature. We will consider this more in another study, but for now, it suffices us to know that we are all fallen, all sinners, all sinful, all deserving of God’s everlasting wrath and curse because of Adam’s sin.
But is there hope? Yes, our catechism indicates hope in the phrase “descending from him by ordinary generation.” Why is this phrase interjected? This phrase is included to exclude the Lord Jesus Christ from the sin of Adam! Christ Jesus is excluded because He was born of a virgin. The guilt of Adam is reckoned along the line of the covenant head in each family. Since Christ is not the son of Joseph, he is not imputed with Adam’s guilt.
This is important because Christ can only be a representative of the elect if He himself is not guilty in Adam in the first place.
And indeed, he is not. For that reason, there is hope for some.
3. There Is Hope for Some
This is the third point we must consider. We see that Adam’s sin is imputed to all his posterity descending from him by ordinary generation. We see that we all deserve to die because we are guilty in Adam.
But we cannot think of our being represented in condemnation in Adam without thinking of our justification in Christ. This is what the apostle Paul, writing under the inspiration of the Spirit of Christ, wants us to do.
He says in verse 18:
Therefore as by the offence 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. 19 For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.
In our present study, our focus is on the fall of mankind in Adam. But let us not end our study there. Let us end with hope according as the word of God leads us.
The comparison between our first and second covenant heads is striking.
- Adam disobeyed. Christ obeyed.
- Adam involved all he represented in sin and death. Christ involves all He represents in righteousness and life.
- Further, as Paul puts it elsewhere: Adam was made a living soul; Christ makes souls live.
- Adam was earthly; Christ was heavenly.
- Adam was tempted upon a full stomach in a lush paradise with plenty. Christ was tempted in a dry and arid desert after forty days of fasting. Yet Christ prevailed.
- Adam was a mere man, though he was, at the beginning, perfect. Christ is the God-Man. The value of His sacrifice and obedience far exceeded that of Adam. By obedience according to the condition of the covenant, Adam could have procured the beginnings of eternal life in an earthly paradise for his posterity. But Christ procured the fullness of eternal life in heaven and earth for us.
For this reason, there is hope, great hope. There is hope for all who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, for they are who Christ represents. Though we may all know that we are by nature represented by Adam, we may not know whether Christ represents us until we have faith. Faith is a gift of God for those who Christ represents. Faith is also how we may receive all the benefits of being represented by Christ.
Therefore, brethren, children and friends, confess your guilt, repent of your sin and flee to the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation, rich and free. You will hear Christ’s voice if you are one of His sheep or lamb. You will know He is calling you. You will go to Him. He will not cast out anyone who goes to him.
Once again, our shorter Catechism, question 16 teaches us that “The covenant [of life] being made with Adam, not only for himself, but for his posterity; all mankind, descending from him by ordinary generation, sinned in him, and fell with him, in his first transgression.”
This is an important truth. If it were not, the apostle Paul would not spend time to prove it in the heart of His magnum opus. But how is it relevant to us?
As we conclude, let us consider its relevance by asking a few questions. Let us seek to ask the right questions.
First of all, ask not whether you were represented by Adam. You were. It makes no difference whether you doubt it or refuse it, just as it makes no difference if you refuse to acknowledge your immediate father as your father. Whatever you may think or say, he remains your father. So too, for Adam. He is your first father. You were represented in Him. So ask not whether you were represented by him.
But ask whether you are represented by Christ. While it matters not whether you believe Adam represented you, it matters a lot whether you believe you are represented by Christ. If you are not represented by Christ, you will perish as a sinner both for Adam’s sin and your own sin. Do you believe in Christ? Do you genuinely believe He lived, suffered and died for you? If you do, then blessed are you, for you can have the confidence that you were represented by Christ and eternal life has begun for you.
Secondly, ask not why God appointed Adam as your representative. He is your first father. He was given the best advantage to represent you. He was the most intelligent of mere men who ever lived. He lived in paradise. He had original righteousness, untainted holiness and true knowledge of God. You could not have a better person to represent you in the Garden of Eden. So ask not why God appointed Adam and not another to represent you.
But ask why you should be represented by Christ. None of us deserves to be represented by Christ. Remember that because of Adam’s fall, we are all enemies of God. And mind you, we were not passive enemies. We were not only imputed with Adam’s guilt, but we also inherited his sinful nature. We were children of God’s wrath, says the apostle Paul. How could any one of us, then, deserve to be represented by Christ? He had to suffer all the pains and sorrows of this life for us. He had to suffer death and the wrath of God to pay for the penalty due to our sins.
Oh, how can anyone ever think we all deserve to be represented by Christ? How could anyone think that if Christ did not die for the world, then God is not fair? The fact is: if we want fairness, then none of us deserves to be represented by Christ at all. We all deserve to die for our sins—not only for the guilt of our first father, but for our own sin. So ask, beloved brethren, why me, Lord? Why have You chosen me, Lord? I do not deserve Your mercy. I have done nothing to make myself worthy. Why me, Lord?
But thirdly, ask not whether God is fair to blame Adam’s guilt on you. He surely is, as we explained before. Ask, instead, whether you are grateful to be represented by Christ. This is a question that every believer and every covenant child must ask. Are you grateful that Christ represented you? If so, are you demonstrating your gratitude in your life? Are you walking according to His commandments out of love and gratitude towards Him? Are you giving of your time, energy and substance for the furtherance, defence and confirmation of His kingdom? Are you bearing a good witness for Him? Are you testifying of His goodness to the unconverted? Are you standing up for Him?
The world is doomed without Christ, for all men descending from Adam fell with him and sinned in him. So the world that we live in is sinful. Without Christ, it will destroy itself even as it makes material and economic advances. Does not this fact trouble your heart? Do you not feel for your children and children’s children? If so, will you not be a witness for the Lord, for there is hope where Christ is believed and honoured?
Christ is the bright light that shines out of the darkness that has blanketed the world since our first father fell, and we fell with and sinned with him. May Christ be magnified through the life and witness of all of us who have been rescued out of the darkness and translated into His marvellous light! Amen.