The Confession of Faith: A commentary on The Westminster Confession of Faith
Of The Fall of Man, of Sin, and of the Punishment Thereof
SECTION 1: OUR first parents being seduced by the subtlety and temptation of Satan, sinned in eating the forbidden fruit. (1) This their sin God was pleased, according to his wise and holy counsel, to permit, having purposed to order it to his own glory. (2)
Scripture Proof Texts
(1) Gen. 3:13; 2 Cor. 11:3. (2) Rom. 11:32.
God having brought the souls of Adam and Eve into being by immediate creation holy, and with sufficient knowledge as to his will, capable of obedience yet fallible, this section proceeds to teach:
1. Our first parents sinned.
2. The particular sin they committed was their eating the forbidden fruit.
It appears to be God's general plan, and one eminently wise and righteous, to introduce all the newly-created subjects of moral government into a state of probation for a time, in which he makes their permanent character and destiny depend upon their own action. He creates them holy, yet capable of falling. In this state he subjects them to a moral test for a time. If they stand the test, the reward is that their moral characters are confirmed and rendered infallible, and they are introduced into an inalienable blessedness forever. If they fail, they are judicially excluded from God's favor and communion forever, and hence morally and eternally dead. This certainly has been his method of dealing with newly-created angels and men. In the case of mankind the specific test to which our first parents were subjected was their abstaining from eating of the fruit of a single tree. As this was a matter in itself morally indifferent, it was admirably adapted to be a test of their implicit allegiance to God, of their absolute faith and submission.
The dreadful sin committed by Adam and Eve seems to have been twofold. Their unbelief induced them to doubt the wisdom of God's prohibition and the certainty of the divine threatening; and their disobedience to God's will manifested their sin of unbelief. In respect to the origin of sin in this world, there are two questions which men constantly ask, and which it is impossible to answer:
A. How could sinful desires or volitions originate in the soul of moral agents created holy like Adam and Eve? Men exercise choice according to their prevailing desires and affections. If these are holy, their wills are holy. And the character of their prevailing affections and desires is determined by the moral state of their souls. If their souls are holy, these are holy; if their souls are sinful, these are sinful. Christ says, "A good man, out of the good treasure of the heart, bringeth forth good things; and an evil man, out of the evil treasure, bringeth forth evil things." "Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt." (Matt. 12:33,35.) But Adam's heart had been created holy; how then could his action be sinful?
All our experience conspires to make the question more difficult. The sinful souls of fallen men never can give birth to holy volitions until they are regenerated by divine grace. The holy spirits of angels and glorified men in heaven are forever removed from all liability to sinful affections or actions. In both these cases the stream continues as the fountain.
Now, although we cannot explain precisely the origin of sin in the holy soul of Adam, it is plain that the difficulty lies only in our ignorance. We have none of us experienced the same conditions of free agency as those which give character to the case of Adam. We have always been under the bondage of corruption, except insofar as we are momentarily assisted against nature by supernatural grace. Now, in order that a volition shall be holy, it must spring from a positively holy affection or disposition; and as these are not native to our hearts, we cannot exercise holy volitions without grace. But Adam was in a state of probation, holy yet fallible. Saints and angels are holy and infallible, yet their infallibility is not essential to their natures, but is a superadded divine grace sustained by the direct power of God. While holiness must always be positive, rooting itself in divine love, it is plain that sin may originate in defect; not in positive alienation, but in want of watchfulness-in the temporary ascendancy of the natural and innocent appetites of the body or constitutional tendencies of the soul over the higher powers of conscience.
The external influences and the subjective motives which prompted our first parents to this dreadful sin did not in the first instance imply sin in them, but became the occasion of sin upon being allowed to occupy their minds and to sway their wills in despite of the divine prohibition. The external influences and motives combined a natural appetite for the attractive fruit with a natural desire for knowledge. But most importantly, they were seduced by the temptation of Satan, about whose fall little is known, and unto whom the true origin of sin is to be referred.
B. The other element of mystery with regard to the origin of sin relates to the permission of God. This section affirms,
4. That this sin was permissively embraced in the eternal purpose of God.
About the facts of the case there can be no doubt. (1) God did certainly foreknow that if such a being as Adam was put in such conditions as he was, he would sin as he sinned. Yet, in spite of this certain knowledge, God created that very being and put him in those very conditions; and having determined to overrule the sin for good, he sovereignly decreed not to intervene to prevent, and so he made it certainly future. (2) On the other hand, God did neither cause nor approve Adam's sin. He forbade it, and presented motives which should have deterred from it. He created Adam holy and fully capable of obedience, and with sufficient knowledge of his duty, and then left him alone to his trial. If it be asked why God, who abhors sin, and who benevolently desires the excellence and happiness of his creatures, should sovereignly determine to permit such a fountain of pollution, degradation, and misery to be opened, we can only say, with profound reverence, "Even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight."
5. That God from the beginning designed to order the sin of Adam to his own glory is included in what we have already proved in the chapters on Creation and Providence-(1) That God overrules the sins of his creatures for good. (2) That the chief end of all God's purposes and works is the manifestation of his own glory.
SECTION 2: BY this sin they fell from their original righteousness, and communion with God,(3) and so became dead in sin,(4) and wholly defiled in all the faculties and parts of soul and body.(5)
Scripture Proof Texts
(3) Gen. 3:6-8; Eccl. 7:29; Rom. 3:23. (4) Gen. 2:17; Eph. 2:1. (5) Titus 1:15; Gen. 6:5; Jer. 17:9; Rom. 3:10-18.
Naturally, man depends upon the providential sustaining power of God; but as a moral and religious being he depends upon the intimate and loving communion of God's Spirit for spiritual life and right moral action. Therefore-
1. By this sin man must have instantly been cut off from this loving communion of the Divine Spirit. This must have been under any constitution the natural effect of sin. And under that covenant relation into which man had been introduced in the gracious providence of God at his creation, it was specifically provided that the commission of the forbidden act should be followed by instant death; that is, instant penal exclusion from the source of all moral and spiritual life. See ch. 7., s. 2. Gen. 2:17. Therefore-
2. The principle of spiritual life having been withdrawn as the punishment of that first sin, our first parents must have instantly lost their original righteousness; their allegiance had been violated, their faith broken, and love could no longer dominate in their hearts. And thus-
3. They must have at once become dead in sins and wholly corrupt. And:
4. This corruption must have extended to all the faculties. It is not meant that Adam by this one sin became as bad as a man can be, or as he himself became afterward. But as death at the heart involves death in all the members, so the favor and communion of God being lost, (1) Original righteousness, the necessary principle of obedience, is lost. (2) Adam's apostasy from God is complete. God demands perfect obedience, and Adam is now a rebel. (3) A schism was introduced into his soul. Conscience uttered its condemning voice. This leads to fear, distrust, prevarication, and an endless series of sins. (4) Thus his entire nature became depraved. The will being at war with the conscience, the understanding became darkened, the passions roused, the affections alienated, the conscience calloused or deceitful, the appetites of the body inordinate, and its members instruments of unrighteousness.
SECTION 3: THEY being the root of all mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed,(6) and the same death in sin and corrupted nature conveyed to all their posterity, descending from them by ordinary generations.(7)
SECTION 4: FROM this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good,(8) and wholly inclined to all evil,(9) do proceed all actual transgressions.(10)
Scripture Proof Texts
(6) Gen. 1:27,28; 2:16,17; Acts 17:26; Rom. 5:12, 15-19; 1 Cor. 15:21,22,45,49. (7) Ps. 51:5; Gen. 5:3; Job 14:4; 15:14. (8) Rom. 5:6; 8:7; 7:18; Col. 1:21. (9) Gen. 6:5; 8:21; Rom. 3:10-12. (10) James 1:14,15; Eph. 2:2,3; Matt. 15:19.
1. Adam was both the natural and federal head of all mankind, Christ of course excepted.
The nature and provisions of that covenant which God made with Adam will be considered in its appropriate place, ch. 8:, s. 2. The point which demands our attention here is, that in making that covenant with Adam, God constituted him and treated with him as the moral representative of all his natural descendants. This is very explicitly taught in our Standards. Conf. Faith, ch. 7:, s. 2: "The first covenant made with man was a covenant of works, wherein life was promised to Adam, and in him to his posterity, upon condition of perfect and personal obedience." L. Cat., q. 22: "The covenant being made with Adam as a public person, not for himself only, but for his posterity, all mankind, descending from him by ordinary generation, sinned in him, and fell with him, in his first transgression." S. Cat., q. 16: "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."
As we have seen, it is God's general method of dealing with newly-created moral agents to create them holy, yet capable of falling, and then to put them on trial for a time, making their confirmed and permanent moral character and destiny to depend upon their own action. In the case of the angels, who were severally created independent individuals, they appear to have stood their trial severally, each in his own person. Some fell, and some were confirmed in holiness and blessedness. But in the case of a race to be propagated in a series, each individual to come into existence an unintelligent infant, thence to develop gradually into moral agency, like that of mankind, it is obvious that one of three plans must be adopted: (1) The whole race must be confirmed in holiness and happiness without any probation. (2) Each individual must stand his own probation while groping his way from infancy into childhood. (3) Or the whole race must have their trial in their natural head and root, Adam. We are not in a condition to judge of the propriety of the first of these plans, but we can easily see that the third is incomparably more rational, righteous, and merciful than the second.
As a matter of fact, God did make our character and destiny to depend upon the conduct of Adam in his probation. This was right-(1) Because, as sovereign Creator, and infinitely wise, righteous, and merciful Guardian of the interests of all his creatures, it seemed right in his eyes. (2) Because it was more to our advantage than any other plan that can be imagined. Adam was most advantageously constituted and circumstanced in order that he should stand the trial safely. Incalculable benefits as well as risks were suspended upon his action. If he had maintained his integrity for a limited period, all his race would have been born into an indefeasible inheritance of glory. (3) Because the covenant headship of Adam is part of a glorious constitution which culminates in the covenant headship of Christ. That Adam was, as our Standards say, "a public person," and that the covenant was made with him "not for himself only, but for his posterity," is proved from the facts-
(1) That he was called by a generic name, Adam-the Man.
(2) That everything that God commanded, promised, or threatened him related to his descendants as much as to himself personally. Thus, "obedience," "a cursed earth," "the reign of death," "painful child-bearing," and the subsequent promise of redemption through the Seed of the woman, were spoken with reference to us as much as with reference to our first parents.
(3) As a matter of fact, the very penalty denounced and executed upon Adam has been executed upon all of his descendants from birth upward. All are born spiritually dead, "by nature children of wrath." Also, from the fact that-
2. The guilt of that sin is imputed to all his descendants, and the penalty executed upon them at their birth.
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.
By the term "impute" is meant to lay to the charge or credit of any one as a ground of judicial punishment or justification. This is the sense in which the phrase "to impute sin" or "righteousness" is used in the Bible. "David describeth the blessedness of the man unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, . . . to whom the Lord will not impute sin. . . . Faith was imputed to Abraham for righteousness." (Rom. 4:3-9.) "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them." (2 Cor. 5:19.)
Our Standards expressly affirm that the "guilt," or just liability to the penalty, of Adam's apostatizing act is by God "imputed," or judicially laid to the charge of each of his natural descendants. Conf. Faith, ch. 6., s. 3: "This sin was imputed . . . to all their posterity." In L. q. 25, and S. Cat., q. 18, "the sinfulness of that estate into which the fall brought mankind" is declared to include each of the following elements:
"(1) The guilt of Adam's first sin; (2) The want of original righteousness; (3) The corruption of his whole nature, which is commonly called original sin; together with all actual transgressions which proceed from it." The reason which our Standards give for this judicial charging the punishableness of Adam's first sin to all his posterity is, that they really "sinned in him in his first transgression" (L. Cat., q. 22; S. Cat., q. 16); since he acted as "a public person," and the covenant was made with him "not for himself only, but for his posterity" (L. Cat., q. 22; S. Cat., q. 16). That is, Adam, by a divine constitution, so represented and acted for all his posterity that they are fairly responsible for his action, and are worthy of punishment on account of it. Since their destiny, as well as his own, was suspended upon Adam's action, since they were justly to have part in his reward if he was faithful, so they justly have part in his punishment for his unfaithfulness.
The Articles of the Synod of Dort affirm that moral depravity is inflicted upon all the descendants of Adam at birth "by the just judgment of God." Ch. 3., s. 2. This is also explicitly taught in Scripture. Paul teaches, in Rom. 5:12-21, (1) That the law of death, spiritual and physical, under which we are born, is a consequent of Adam's public disobedience; and (2) That it is a "judgment," a "condemnation"-that is, a penal consequent of Adam's sin: "Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation." (3) That the punishment of Adam's sin comes upon us upon the same principle upon which the righteousness of Christ is charged to the account of those who believe on him: "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." But the righteousness of Christ is imputed without works (Rom. 4:6), before, and as the necessary condition of, good dispositions or actions upon our part. So the guilt of Adam's sin is imputed to his posterity without personal works of their own, before, and as the cause of, their loss of original righteousness and acquisition of original sin. The only Sin of Adam which the Confession says was "imputed" to his descendants, and the Sin of his which they assert we "sinned in him," was his first sin or apostatizing act. The manifest reason of this is that he represented us, and we are responsible for him only in his trial for character and destiny. His first sin, by incurring the penalty, necessarily and instantly closed his probation and ours, and he immediately became a private person.
The penalty denounced upon Adam and those whom he represented in his trial was the judicial withdrawment of the life-giving influences of the Holy Ghost, and the inevitable consequent moral and physical death. Hence every newly-created soul comes into existence judicially excluded from the life-giving influences of the Holy Spirit, and hence morally and spiritually dead. Other actual sins and miseries in time occur as the natural consequence of this birth-punishment. But the Scriptures and our own consciousness also affirm that these actual transgressions are our own personal sins, and that all the temporal and eternal punishments we suffer are on account of them.
3. It hence follows, that if the guilt of Adam's apostasy is charged to all his natural descendants, and the Holy Spirit consequently judicially withdrawn from them at their birth, the same moral corruption which ensued from the same cause in the case of our first parents must, from their birth, follow in their descendants also. Of this "corrupted nature" this section proceeds to say-
4. That by it "we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil"; and,-
5. "From this original corruption" of nature "proceed all actual transgressions." It is here taught (1) That all men sin from the commencement of moral agency. (2) That back of this their nature is morally corrupt, indisposed to all good, and inclined to all evil. (3) That this moral corruption is so radical and inveterate that men are by nature "disabled" with respect to right moral action. (4) That this condition is innate from birth and by nature this representation agrees with universal experience. All the children of men, of all ages, nations, and circumstances, and how ever educated, invariably sin as soon as they become capable of moral action. A universal fact must have a cause universally present. This can only be found in the common depravity of our nature.
(2) With all the teachings of Scripture. (a) It declares that all men are sinners. (Rom. 1, 2, and 3:1-19.) (b) That sinful actions proceed from sinful hearts or dispositions. (Matt. 15:19; Luke 6:43-45.) (c) That the disposition which prompts to sinful action is "sin," a moral corruption. (Rom. 6:12,14,17; 7:5-17; Gal. 5:17,24; Eph. 4:18,19.)
(d) That this corruption involves moral and spiritual blindness of mind, as well as hardness of heart and vile affections. (1 Cor. 2:14,15; Eph. 4:18.) (e) That this moral corruption and prevailing tendency to sin is in our nature from birth. (Ps. 51:5; Eph. 2:3; John 3:6.) (f) That men in their natural state are "dead" in trespasses and sins. (Eph. 2:1; John 3:4,5.) And (g) That consequently they can be restored by no "change of purpose" nor "moral reformation" upon their part, but only by an act of almighty power called "a new birth" "a new creation," "a begetting," "a quickening from the dead." (Eph. 4:24, 2:5,10; John 3:3; 1 John 5:18.)
What the Confession teaches of man's sinful inability to do right, in consequence of the depravity of his nature, will be considered under its appropriate head, in Chapter 9.
SECTION 5: THIS corruption of nature, during this life, remain in those that are regenerated;(11) and although it be through Christ pardoned and mortified, yet both itself, and all the motions thereof, are truly and properly sin.(12)
SECTION 6: EVERY sin, both original and actual. being a transgression of the righteous law of God, and contrary thereunto,(13) doth, in its own nature, bring guilt upon the sinner,(14) whereby he is bound over to the wrath of God,(15) and curse of the law,(16) and so made subject to death,(17) with all miseries spiritual,(18) temporal,(19) and eternal.(20)
Scripture Proof Texts
(11) 1 John 1:8,10; Rom. 7:14,17,18,23; James 3:2; Prov. 20:9; Eccl. 7:20. (12) Rom. 7:5,7,8, 25; Gal. 5:17. (13) 1 John 3:4. (14) Rom. 2:15; 3:9,19. (15) Eph. 2:3. (16) Gal. 3:10. (17) Rom. 6:23. (18) Eph. 4:18. (19) Rom. 8:20; Lam. 3:39. (20) Matt. 25:41; 2 Thess. 1:9.
These sections speak of the corruption that remains in the regenerated, and of the guilt or just liability to punishment which attaches to all sin, and of the punishments God inflicts upon it.
I. Of the first, it is taught-
1. Original sin, or innate moral corruption, remains in the regenerate as long as they live.
2. That it is pardoned through the merits of Christ.
3. That it is gradually brought into subjection and mortified by the work of the Holy Spirit in sanctification.
4. That nevertheless all that remains of it, and all the feelings and actions to which it prompts, are truly of the nature of sin.
All of these points will be more appropriately treated under the heads of Justification, Conf. Faith, ch. 11.; and of Sanctification, Conf. Faith, ch. 13.
II. Of the second, it is taught-
1. Original sin-that is, the nature corrupt tendencies and affections of the soul- is truly a violation of God's law as actual transgression.
The Catechisms. (L. Cat., q. 24; S. Cat., q. 14) define sin to be "any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God."
This corresponds exactly with what the apostle teaches (1 John 3:4): "Sin is hamartian" -any discrepancy of the creature or his acts with God's law. This is evident-
(1) Because from its very essence the moral law demands absolute perfection of character and disposition as well as action. Whatever is right is essentially obligatory; whatever is wrong is essentially worthy of condemnation. God requires us to be holy as well as to act rightly. God proclaims himself as "he which searcheth the reins and hearts." (Rev. 2:23.)
(2) The native corrupt tendencies which constitute original sin are called sin in Scripture. Sin and its lusts are said to "reign" in our mortal bodies; sin is said to have "dominion"; the unregenerate are called "the servants of sin." (Rom. 6:12-17; 7:5-17; Gal. 5:17,24; Eph. 4:18,19.)
(3) God condemns men for their corrupt natural dispositions, for their hardness of heart, spiritual blindness of mind. (Mark 16:14; Eph. 2:3.)
(4) In all genuine conviction of sin, the great burden of pollution and guilt is felt to consist not in what we have done, but in what we are-our permanent moral condition rather than our actual transgressions. The great cry is to be forgiven and delivered from "the wicked heart of unbelief," "deadness to divine things, alienation from God as a permanent habit of soul." "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" (Rom. 7:24; Ps. 51:5,6.)
2. It hence necessarily follows that original sin, as well as actual transgressions, deserves the curse of the law. Everything which is condemned by the law is under its curse. This is evident From what we learned of the justice of God in ch. 2., ss. 1, 2. (2) From the fact that it is the universal judgment of men that sin is intrinsically ill-desert-that all that ought not to be is worthy of condemnation. (3) From the fact that the Holy Ghost, in convincing men of sin, always likewise convinces them of a judgment. (John 16:8.) (4) Men are "by nature children of wrath." Eph. 2:3. (5) Even infants are redeemed by Christ. And in their case, as in all others, he redeemed them from the curse of the law, being made a curse for them. (Gal. 3:13.)
3. Consequently, the sinner guilty of original and of actual transgressions is, unless grace intervene, made subject to death, including temporal, spiritual, and eternal miseries.
The temporal miseries indicted upon men, in the just displeasure of God for their sin, are summarily set forth in the Larger Catechism, q. 28, as "the curse of God upon the creatures for our sakes, and all other evils that befall us in our bodies, names, estates, relations, and employments; together with death itself." This, of course, applies only to the still unbelieving, unjustified sinner; for all the tribulations which are suffered by the justified believer in this life are chastisements, designed for his benefit, and expressive of his heavenly Father's love-not penal evils, expressive of his wrath and unsatisfied justice.
The spiritual miseries which sin brings upon the unforgiven in this life are set forth "as blindness of mind, a reprobate sense, strong delusions, hardness of heart, horror of conscience, and vile affections." )Eph. 4:18; Rom. 1:28; 2 Thess. 2:11; Rom. 2:5; Isa. 33:14; Gen. 4:13; Matt. 27:4; Rom. 1:26; L. Cat., q. 28.)
The eternal miseries which are consequent upon unforgiven sin are set forth as "everlasting separation from the comfortable presence of God, and most grievous torments in soul and body, without intermission, in hell-fire forever." (2 Thess. 1:9; Mark 9:43,44,46,48; Luke 16:24.)