Heard & Seen
i. Our first parents, being seduced by the subtlety and temptation of Satan, sinned in eating the forbidden fruit. This their sin, God was pleased, according to His wise and holy counsel, to permit, having purposed to order it to His own glory.
ii. By this sin, they fell from their original righteousness and communion with God, and so became dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the parts and faculties of soul and body.
iii. They being the root of all mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed, and the same death in sin and corrupted nature conveyed to all their posterity, descending from them by ordinary generation.
iv. From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil, do proceed all actual transgressions.
v. This corruption of nature, during this life, doth remain in those that are regenerated; and although it be through Christ pardoned and mortified, yet both itself, and all the motions thereof, are truly and properly sin.
vi. Every sin, both original and actual, being a transgression of the righteous law of God, and contrary thereunto, doth, in its own nature, bring guilt upon the sinner, whereby he is bound over to the wrath of God, and curse of the law, and so made subject to death, with all miseries spiritual, temporal, and eternal.
The Confession begins the sixth chapter with a succinct description of the Fall committed by Adam and Eve as recorded in Genesis three. It considers this a historical event, and not a mythical tale constructed by people living in an ancient culture. Adam and Eve were real individuals, and they were faced with a real temptation orchestrated by Satan.
Why is it important for the Confession to affirm the historicity of Adam and Eve, as well as the events in the Garden of Eden? It is important because this is precisely how Adam and Eve sinned, and consequently why God punished them. The punishment for sin is terrifying and real. The act that brought punishment is equally real.
The first paragraph of this chapter concludes with an extremely difficult theological statement. According to God's "wise and holy counsel," he permitted Adam and Eve to fall and to sin. This is a theological point that is often very hard for some to grasp and even accept. Chapter three addresses God's decrees, which are eternal and unchangeable. Chapter four explains God's providence over all things. Why then does a wise and holy God decree and providentially govern the Fall and sin?
The Confession teaches us that God was "pleased" to permit the Fall and sin because it would manifest His glory. The answer the Confession gives maybe hard to accept, but that may say something more about us and our view of God. God does everything to magnify His own glory because He is perfect, most pure, and most holy. If we believe this about who God is, then we also must acknowledge that in His infinite wisdom He permitted the Fall and sin because it would bring Him glory.
In paragraph two of this chapter we have a more detailed statement about the consequences of Adam and Eve's fall. Immediately following the Fall, Adam and Eve were no longer in communion with God. A. A. Hodge writes, "By this sin man must have instantly been cut off from this loving communion of the Divine Spirit." In other words, the relationship with God was broken; and the consequences extended to both the moral and spiritual abilities, and the entire body. Adam and Ever were now "dead in sin", and this was a state of total depravity (more on total depravity in paragraph four).
Paragraph three introduces the crucial doctrine of the imputation of Adam's sin. Adam and Eve's sin was imputed to all "their posterity, descending from them by ordinary generation." What does it mean for the sin of Adam to be imputed to all his descendants? It means that everyone is included in the "guilty" verdict of Adam's first sin. To some this sounds absolutely unfair. Why should everyone be condemned for Adam's action? Shouldn't individuals be judged for their own specific actions? The Bible and the Confession teach us that Adam was appointed as our covenant or federal head. He stood as a representative, chosen by God, to be given the probationary test that would impact all of humankind. Again, it is important to remember that this was also according to God's decree established by His holy and wise counsel. Moreover, Adam was created in state of holiness and righteousness, unlike the sinful state in which we find ourselves.
This leads to the next point in paragraph four. It is not only the guilt of Adam's first sin that is imputed, but all of Adam and Eve's descendants likewise inherit a corrupt sinful nature. As a result, all humans now have a nature that desires sin and is in rebellion against God. This is total depravity. There is no part of a men or women that is not corrupted by sin; everyone refuses to obey God. Ephesians 2:1 describes the unconverted as "dead in trespasses and sins". Physical death is a state of complete inability. Spiritual death, being dead in sins, results in the same complete spiritual inability, which is an inability to obey God.
The fifth paragraph changes the focus from the unconverted to the Christian. While Christians, because of the redeeming work of Christ, are pardoned from the guilt of sin, and their nature is renewed, they still sin, and sometimes sin grievously. This often leads Christians to either doubt that they are truly saved or believe in an unbiblical doctrine like perfectionism. We must not fall into either misunderstanding. Christians are justified and declared righteous, regenerated, and yet still in need of the process of sanctification to put death the sinful nature.
Finally, the sixth paragraph explains clearly that every sin, no matter how great or small, is a violation of God's righteous law and deserves God's just punishment. The punishment for sin includes not only death, but also other consequences both in this temporal world and the eternal age to come. This may sound very cruel, but God's holiness demands perfect obedience. Thankfully, the Confession will go on to explain how the demand for perfect obedience was satisfied in the redemptive work of Christ.
Dr. Jeffrey K. Jue is the Stephen Tong associate professor of Reformed Theology and associate professor of church history at Westminster Theological Seminary.