The Effects of Adam’s Sin upon his Posterity

by Charles Hodge

That the sin of Adam injured not himself only but also all descending from him by ordinary generation, is part of the faith of the whole Christian world. The nature and extent of the evil thus entailed upon his race, and the ground or reason of the descendants of Adam being involved in the evil consequences of his transgression, have ever been matter of diversity and discussion. As to both of these points the common Augustinian doctrine is briefly stated in the Symbols of our Church. According to our standards, "the sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell consists in the guilt of Adam's first sin, the want of original righteousness, and the corruption of his whole nature, which is commonly called original sin, together with all actual transgressions which proceed from it." This corruption of nature is in the Confession of Faith declared to be "both in itself and in all motions thereof, truly and properly sin." And in virtue of this original corruption men are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil. As to the ground of these evils, we are taught that "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." Or, as it is expressed in the Confession, "Our first parents, being the root of all mankind, the guilt of their sin was imputed, and the same death in sin and corrupted nature were conveyed to all their posterity, descending from them by ordinary generation." 

In this view of the relation of mankind to Adam, and of the consequences of his apostasy, the three leading subjects included, are the imputation of Adam's first sin; the corruption of nature derived from him; and the inability of fallen man to any spiritual good. 

§ 9. Immediate Imputation

It being admitted that the race of man participates in the evil consequences of the fall of our first parent, that fact is accounted for on different theories. 

1. That which is adopted by Protestants generally, as well Lutherans as Reformed, and also by the great body of the Latin Church is, that in virtue of the union, federal and natural, between Adam and his posterity, his sin, although not their act, is so imputed to them that it is the judicial ground of the penalty threatened against him coming also upon them. This is the doctrine of immediate imputation. 

2. Others, while they admit that a corrupt nature is derived from Adam by all his ordinary posterity, yet deny, first, that this corruption or spiritual death is a penal infliction for his sin; and second, that there is any imputation to Adam's descendants of the guilt of his first sin. All that is really imputed to them is their own inherent, hereditary depravity. This is the doctrine of mediate imputation. 

3. Others discard entirely the idea of imputation, so far as Adam's sin is concerned, and refer the hereditary corruption of men to the general law of propagation. Throughout the vegetable and animal kingdoms, like begets like. Man is not an exception to that law. Adam having lost his original righteousness and corrupted his nature by his apostasy, transmits that despoiled and deteriorated nature to all his descendants. To what extent man's nature is injured by the fall, is left undetermined by this theory. According to some it is so deteriorated as to be in the true Scriptural sense of the term, spiritually dead, while according to others, the injury is little if anything more than a physical infirmity, an impaired constitution which the first parent has transmitted to his children. 

4. Others again adopt the realistic theory, and teach that as generic humanity existed whole and entire in the persons of Adam and Eve, their sin was the sin of the entire race. The same numerical rational and voluntary substance which acted in our first parents, having been communicated to us, their act was as truly and properly our act, being the act of our reason and will, as it was their act. It is imputed to us therefore not as his, but as our own. We literally sinned in Adam, and consequently the guilt of that sin is our personal guilt and the consequent corruption of nature is the effect of our own voluntary act. 

5. Others, finally, deny any causal relation, whether logical or natural, whether judicial or physical, between the sin of Adam and the sinfulness of his race. Some who take this ground say that it was a divine constitution, that, if Adam sinned, all men should sin. The one event was connected with the other only in the divine purpose. Others say that there is no necessity to account for the fact that all men are sinners, further than by referring to their liberty of will. Adam sinned, and other men sin. That is all. The one fact is as easily accounted for as the other. 

Statement of the Doctrine of Immediate Imputation

The first of the above mentioned doctrines is that presented in the Symbols of the Lutheran and Reformed Churches, and by the great body of the theologians of those great historical branches of the Protestant community. What that doctrine is may be stated in few words. To impute is simply to attribute to, as we are said to impute good or bad motives to any one. In the juridical and theological sense of the word, to impute is to attribute anything to a person or persons, upon adequate grounds, as the judicial or meritorious reason of reward or punishment, i.e., of the bestowment of good or the infliction of evil. The most elaborate discussion of the Hebrew word חָשַׁב and the Greek λογίζομαι, used in Scripture in relation to this subject, gives nothing beyond the simple result above mentioned. 

1. To impute is to reckon to, or to lay to one's account. So far as the meaning of the word is concerned, it makes no difference whether the thing imputed be sin or righteousness; whether it is our own personally, or the sin or righteousness of another. 

2. To impute sin, in Scriptural and theological language, is to impute the guilt of sin. And by guilt is meant not criminality or moral ill-desert, or demerit, much less moral pollution, but the judicial obligation to satisfy justice. Hence the evil consequent on the imputation is not an arbitrary infliction; not merely a misfortune or calamity; not a chastisement in the proper sense of that word, but a punishment, i.e., an evil inflicted in execution of the penalty of law and for the satisfaction of justice. 

3. A third remark in elucidation of what is meant by the imputation of Adam's sin is, that by all theologians, Reformed and Lutheran, it is admitted, that in the imputation of Adam's sin to us, of our sins to Christ, and of Christ's righteousness to believers, the nature of imputation is the same, so that the one case illustrates the others. When it is said that our sins were imputed to Christ, or that He bore our sins, it is not meant that he actually committed our sins, or that He was morally criminal on account of them, or that the demerit of them rested upon Him. All that is meant is that He assumed, in the language of the older theologians, "our law-place." He undertook to answer the demands of justice for the sins of men, or, as it is expressed by the Apostle, to be made a curse for them. In like manner, when it is said that the righteousness of Christ is imputed to believers, it does not mean that they wrought out that righteousness, that they were the agents of the acts of Christ in obeying the law; nor that the merit of his righteousness is their personal merit; nor that it constitutes their moral character; it simply means that his righteousness, having been wrought out by Christ for the benefit of his people, in their name, by Him as their representative, it is laid to their account, so that God can be just in justifying the ungodly. Much of the difficulty on this subject arises from the ambiguity of language. The words righteous and unrighteous have two distinct meanings. Sometimes they express moral character. A righteous man is an upright or good man. At other times, these words do not express moral character, but simply relation to justice. In this sense a righteous man is one with regard to whom the demands of justice are satisfied. He may be personally unrighteous (or ungodly) and legally righteous. If this were not so, no sinner could be saved. There is not a believer on earth who does not feel and acknowledge himself to be personally unrighteous, ill-deserving, meriting the wrath and curse of God. Nevertheless he rejoices in the assurance that the infinitely meritorious righteousness of Christ, his full atonement for all sin, constitutes Him legally, not morally, righteous in the sight of divine justice. When, therefore, God pronounces the unrighteous to be righteous, He does not declare them to be what they are not. He simply declares that their debt to justice has been paid by another. And when it is said that the sin of Adam is imputed to his posterity, it is not meant that they committed his sin, or were the agents of his act, nor is it meant that they are morally criminal for his transgression; that it is for them the ground of remorse and self-reproach; but simply that in virtue of the union between him and his descendants, his sin is the judicial ground of the condemnation of his race, precisely as the righteousness of Christ is the judicial ground of the justification of his people. So much for the statement of the question. 

It is no less a doctrine of Scripture than a fact of experience that mankind are a fallen race. Men universally, under all the circumstances of their being in this world, are sinful, and exposed to innumerable evils. Many of these, and that in many instances, the most appalling, come upon the children of men in early infancy, anterior to any possible transgressions of their own. This is a fact which cannot be denied; and for which the human mind has tortured itself to find a solution. The Scriptural solution of this fearful problem is, that God constituted our first parent the federal head and representative of his race, and placed him on probation not only for himself, but also for all his posterity. Had he retained his integrity, he and all his descendants would have been confirmed in a state of holiness and happiness forever. As he fell from the estate in which he was created, they fell with him in his first transgression, so that the penalty of that sin came upon them as well as upon him. Men therefore stood their probation in Adam. As he sinned, his posterity come into the world in a state of sin and condemnation. They are by nature the children of wrath. The evils which they suffer are not arbitrary impositions, nor simply the natural consequences of his apostasy, but judicial inflictions. The loss of original righteousness, and death spiritual and temporal under which they commence their existence, are the penalty of Adam's first sin. We do not say that this solution of the problem of man's sinfulness and misery, is without its difficulties; for the ways of God are past finding out. But it may be confidently asserted, first, that it is the Scriptural solution of that problem; and secondly, that it is far more satisfactory to the reason, the heart, and the conscience, than any other solution which the ingenuity of man has ever suggested. This is proved by its general acceptance in the Christian Church. 

The Ground of the Imputation of Adam's Sin

The ground of the imputation of Adam's sin, or the reason why the penalty of his sin has come upon all his posterity, according to the doctrine above stated, is the union between us and Adam. There could of course be no propriety in imputing the sin of one man to another unless there were some connection between them to explain and justify such imputation. The Scriptures never speak of the imputation of the sins of angels either to men or to Christ, or of his righteousness to them; because there is no such relation between men and angels, or between angels and Christ, as to involve the one in the judicial consequences of the sin or righteousness of the other. The union between Adam and his posterity which is the ground of the imputation of his sin to them, is both natural and federal. He was their natural head. Such is the relation between parent and child, not only in the case of Adam and his descendants, but in all other cases, that the character and conduct of the one, of necessity to a greater or less degree affect the other. No fact in history is plainer than that children bear the iniquities of their fathers. They suffer for their sins. There must be a reason for this; and a reason founded in the very constitution of our nature. But there was something peculiar in the case of Adam. Over and beyond this natural relation which exists between a man and his posterity, there was a special divine constitution by which he was appointed the head and representative of his whole race. 

Adam the Federal Head of his Race

1. The first argument, therefore, in favour of the doctrine of imputation is that the Scriptures present Adam as not only the natural, but also the federal head of his posterity. This is plain, as already remarked, from the narrative given in Genesis. Everything there said to Adam was said to him in his representative capacity. The promise of life was for him and for his seed after him. The dominion with which he was invested, belonged to his posterity as well as to himself. All the evils threatened against him in case of transgression, included them, and have in fact come upon them. They are mortal; they have to earn their bread by the sweat of their brows; they are subject to all the inconveniences and sufferings arising from the banishment of our first parents from paradise and from the curse pronounced for man's sake upon the earth. They no less obviously are born into the world destitute of original righteousness and subject to spiritual death. The full penalty, therefore, threatened against Adam, has been inflicted upon them. It was death with the promise of redemption. Now that these evils are penal in our case as well as in his, is plain, because punishment is suffering inflicted in execution of a threatening, and for the satisfaction of justice. It matters not what that suffering may be. Its character as penalty depends not on its nature, but upon the design of its infliction. One man, as before remarked, may be shut up in a prison to protect him from popular violence; another, in execution of a legal sentence. In one case the imprisonment is a favour, in the other, it is a punishment. As therefore, the evils which men suffer on account of the sin of Adam, are inflicted in execution of the penalty threatened against him, they are as truly penal in our case as they were in his; and he was consequently treated as the federal head and representative of his race. Besides the plain assumption of the truth of this federal relation, it is expressly asserted in the Word of God. The parallel drawn by the Apostle between Adam and Christ relates precisely to this point. Adam was the type of Him who was to come, because as the one was the representative of his race, so the other is the representative of his people. And the consequences of the relation are shown to be in like manner analogous. It was because Adam was the representative of his race, that his sin is the judicial ground of their condemnation; and it is because Christ is the representative of his people, that his righteousness is the judicial ground of the justification of believers. 

The Representative Principle in the Scriptures

2. This representative principle pervades the whole Scriptures. The imputation of Adam's sin to his posterity is not an isolated fact. It is only an illustration of a general principle which characterizes the dispensations of God from the beginning of the world. God declared himself to Moses to be, "The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression, and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children unto the third and to the fourth generation." (Ex. 34:6, 7.) Jeremiah says: "Thou showest loving-kindness unto thousands, and recompensest the iniquities of the fathers into the bosom of their children after them. The Great, the Mighty God, the LORD of Hosts, is his name." (Jer. 32:18.) The curse pronounced on Canaan fell upon his posterity. Esau's selling his birthright, shut out his descendants from the covenant of promise. The children of Moab and Ammon were excluded from the congregation of the Lord forever, because their ancestors opposed the Israelites when they came out of Egypt. In the case of Dathan and Abiram, as in that of Achan, "their wives, and their sons, and their little children" perished for the sins of their parents. God said to Eli, that the iniquity of his house should not be purged with sacrifice and offering forever. To David it was said, "The sword shall never depart from thy house; because thou hast despised me, and hast taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be thy wife." To the disobedient Gehazi it was said: "The leprosy of Naaman shall cleave unto thee and unto thy seed forever." The sin of Jereboam and of the men of his generation determined the destiny of the ten tribes for all time. The imprecation of the Jews, when they demanded the crucifixion of Christ, "His blood be on us and on our children," still weighs down the scattered people of Israel. Our Lord himself said to the Jews of his generation that they built the sepulchres of the prophets whom their fathers had slain, and thus acknowledged themselves to be the children of murderers, and that therefore the blood of those prophets should be required at their hands. This principle runs through the whole Scriptures. When God entered into covenant with Abraham, it was not for himself only but also for his posterity. They were bound by all the stipulations of that covenant. They shared its promises and its threatenings, and in hundreds of cases the penalty of disobedience came upon those who had no personal part in the transgressions. Children suffered equally with adults in the judgments, whether famine, pestilence, or war, which came upon the people for their sins. In like manner, when God renewed and enlarged the Abrahamic covenant at Mount Sinai, it was made with the adults of that generation as representing their descendants to the remotest generations. And the Jews to this day are suffering the penalty of the sins of their fathers for their rejection of Him of whom Moses and the prophets spoke. The whole plan of redemption rests on this same principle. Christ is the representative of his people, and on this ground their sins are imputed to Him and his righteousness to them. In like manner, in the baptismal covenant, the parent acts for the child, and binds him without the child's consent, and the destiny of the child is, as a general rule, suspended on the fidelity of the parent. No man who believes the Bible, can shut his eyes to the fact that it everywhere recognizes the representative character of parents, and that the dispensations of God have from the beginning been founded on the principle that children bear the iniquities of their fathers. This is one of the reasons which infidels assign for rejecting the divine origin of the Scriptures. But infidelity furnishes no relief. History is as full of this doctrine as the Bible is. The punishment of the felon involves his family in his disgrace and misery. The spendthrift and drunkard entail poverty and wretchedness upon all connected with them. There is no nation now existing on the face of the earth, whose condition for weal or woe is not largely determined by the character and conduct of their ancestors. If, unable to solve the mysteries of Providence, we plunge into Atheism, we only increase a thousand fold the darkness by which we are surrounded. It is easier to believe that all things are guided by infinite reason and goodness, and are certain to result in the highest glory of God, and in the highest blessedness of the universe, than to believe that this vast aggregate of sin and misery is the working of blind force without purpose and without end. 

If the fact be admitted that we bear the consequences of Adam's sin, and that children suffer for the iniquities of their fathers, it may be said that this is not to be referred to the justice of God, but to the undesigned working of a general law, which in despite of incidental evil, is on the whole beneficent. The difficulty on that assumption instead of being lessened, is only increased. On either theory the nature and the degree of suffering are the same. The innocence of the sufferers is the same. The only difference relates to the question, Why they suffer for offences of which they are not personally guilty? The Bible says these sufferings are judicial; they are inflicted as punishment for the support of law. Others say, they are merely natural consequences, or arbitrary inflictions of a sovereign. If a king should put the children of a rebel to death, would it relieve his conduct from reproach to say that it was an act of arbitrary sovereignty? If the prevention of crime be one important end of punishment (although not its primary end), would it not be a relief to say, that the death of the children was designed to prevent other parents from rebelling? That the execution of the children of a criminal by a human sovereign would be a cruel and unjust punishment, may be admitted, while it is, and must be denied, that it is unjust in God that He should visit the iniquities of the fathers upon their children. In the first place no human sovereign has the right over his subjects which belongs to God over his creatures as their Creator. And in the second place, no human sovereign has the power and wisdom to secure the highest good from the penalties which he attaches to the violations of law. We cannot infer that because a course of action would be wrong in man, therefore it must be unjust in God. No man could rightfully send pestilence or famine through a land, but God does send such visitations not only righteously, but to the manifestation of his own glory and to the good of his creatures. 

The same Principle involved in other Doctrines

That the sin of Adam is imputed to his posterity is proved not only (1.) From the fact that he was their natural head and representative; and (2.) From the fact that this principle of representation pervades the Scriptures; and (3.) From the fact that it is the ground on which the providence of God is administered; and (4.) From the fact that evils consequent on the apostasy of Adam are expressly declared in Scripture to be penal inflictions; but also (5.) From the fact that the principle of imputation is involved in other great doctrines of the Bible. The assumption that one man cannot righteously, under the government of God, be punished for the sins of another, is not only contrary, as we have seen to the express declarations of Scripture and to the administration of the divine government from the beginning, but it is subversive of the doctrines of atonement and justification. The idea of the transfer of guilt or of vicarious punishment lies at the foundation of all the expiatory offerings under the Old Testament, and of the great atonement under the new dispensation. To bear sin, is in Scriptural language to bear the penalty of sin. The victim bore the sin of the offerer. Hands were imposed upon the head of the animal about to be slaughtered, to express the transfer of guilt. That animal must be free from all defect or blemish to make it the more apparent that its blood was shed not for its own deficiencies but for the sin of another. All this was symbolical and typical. There could be no real transfer of guilt made to an irrational animal, and no real atonement made by its blood. But these services were significant. They were intended to teach these great truths: (1.) That the penalty of sin was death. (2.) That sin could not be pardoned without an atonement. (3.) That atonement consists in vicarious punishment. The innocent takes the place of the guilty and bears the penalty in his stead. This is the idea attached to expiatory offerings in all ages and among all nations. This is the idea inculcated in every part of the Bible. And this is what the Scriptures teach concerning the atonement of Christ. He bore our sins; He was made a curse for us; He suffered the penalty of the law in our stead. All this proceeds on the ground that the sins of one man can be justly, on some adequate ground, imputed to another. In justification the same radical idea is included. Justification is not a subjective change in the moral state of the sinner; it is not mere pardon; it is not simply pardon and restoration to favour, as when a rebel is forgiven and restored to the enjoyment of his civil rights. It is a declaration that the demands of justice have been satisfied. It proceeds on the assumption that the righteousness which the law requires belongs either personally and inherently, or by imputation, to the person who is justified, or declared to be just. There is a logical connection, therefore, between the denial of the imputation of Adam's sin, and the denial of the Scriptural doctrines of atonement and justification. The objections urged against the former bear equally against the latter doctrines. And it is a matter of history that those who reject the one, reject also the others. 

Argument from Romans 5:12–21

The Apostle in Romans 5:12–21 teaches this doctrine in the most formal and explicit manner. The design of that passage is to illustrate the method of salvation. The Apostle had taught that all men are sinners, and the whole world guilty before God. All men being under the condemnation of the law, it is impossible that they should be justified by the law. The same law cannot both justify and condemn the same persons. As therefore no flesh can be justified by the works of the law, God sent his Son for our salvation. He assumed our nature, took our place, and obeyed and suffered in our stead, and thus wrought out for us a perfect and infinitely meritorious righteousness. On the ground of that righteousness, God can now be just in justifying the ungodly, if, renouncing their own righteousness, they receive and trust upon this righteousness of God, freely offered to them in the Gospel. The fundamental doctrine of the Epistle to the Romans, as it is the fundamental doctrine of the Gospel, is, therefore, that the righteousness of one man, even Christ, can be and is so imputed to believers as to be the meritorious ground of their justification at the bar of God. To make this doctrine the more plain to his readers, the Apostle refers to the analogous case of the condemnation of the human race for the sin of Adam; and shows that as the sin of Adam is the judicial ground of the condemnation of all who were in him, i.e., of all represented by him, so the obedience of Christ is the judicial ground of the justification of all who are in Him. In the prosecution of his plan he first asserts the imputation of Adam's sin to his posterity. He then proves it. He then comments upon it. He then applies it; and finally draws inferences from it. Thus in every possible way, as it would seem, he sets forth the doctrine as part of the revelation of God. The assertion of the doctrine is contained in the twelfth verse of the chapter. It was by one man, he says, that sin and death passed upon all men; because all sinned. They sinned through, or in, that one man. His sin was the sin of all in virtue of the union between them and him. The proof of this doctrine is contained in verses thirteen and fourteen. The Apostle argues thus: Punishment supposes sin; sin supposes law; for sin is not imputed where there is no law. All men are punished; they are all subject to penal evils. They are, therefore, all chargeable with sin, and consequently are all guilty of violation of law. That law cannot be the law of Moses, for men died (i.e., were subject to the penalty of the law) before that law was given. It cannot be the law as written on the heart; for those die who have never committed any personal sin. There are penal evils, therefore, which come upon all mankind prior to anything in their state or conduct to merit such infliction. The ground of that infliction must therefore be sought out of themselves, i.e., in the sin of their first parent. Hence Adam is the type of Christ. As the one is the head and representative of his race, so the other is the head and representative of his people. As the sin of the one is the ground of the condemnation of his posterity, so the righteousness of the other is the ground of the justification of all who are in him. But although there is this grand analogy between the fall and the redemption of man, there are nevertheless certain points of difference, all in favour of the scheme of redemption. If we die for the offence of one man, much more shall grace abound unto many through one man. If for one offense the sentence of condemnation passed on all, the free justification is from many offences. If condemned for a sin in which we had no personal and voluntary participation, how much more shall we live on account of a righteousness, which we cordially receive. Wherefore, continues the Apostle, in the application of his illustration, if all men (in union with Adam) are condemned by the offence of one man, so also all (in union with Christ) shall be justified on the ground of the righteousness of one man. As one man's disobedience constituted us sinners, so the obedience of one man constitutes us righteous, (verses 18 and 19). From these premises the Apostle draws two conclusions: First, that the law was not designed for justification, but that sin might abound in the knowledge and consciousness of men; and secondly, that where sin hath abounded grace shall much more abound. The benefits and blessings of redemption shall far exceed all the evils of the apostasy. 

Whatever may be thought of the details of this exposition, there can hardly be a doubt that it expresses the main idea of the passage. Few can doubt, and few ever have doubted, that the Apostle does here clearly teach that the sin of Adam is the judicial ground of the condemnation of his race. With this agrees not only, as we have already seen, the Scriptural account of the fall, but also what the Apostle teaches in 1 Cor. 15:21, 22. "For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive." Union with Adam is the cause of death; union with Christ is the cause of life. 

Argument from General Consent

The imputation of Adam's sin has been the doctrine of the Church universal in all ages. It was the doctrine of the Jews, derived from the plain teaching of the Old Testament Scriptures. It was and is the doctrine of the Greek, Latin, Lutheran, and Reformed churches. Its denial is a novelty. It is only since the rise of Arminianism that any considerable body of Christians have ventured to set themselves in opposition to a doctrine so clearly taught in the Bible, and sustained by so many facts of history and experience. The points of diversity in reference to this subject do not relate to the fact that Adam's sin is imputed to his posterity, but either to the grounds of that imputation or to its consequences. In the Greek Church the lowest views prevalent among Christians were adopted. The theologians of that church generally held that natural death, and a deterioration of our nature, and a change for the worse in the whole state of the world, were the only penal evils which the race of mankind suffer on account of Adam's sin. In the Latin Church during the Middle Ages, as we have already seen, great diversity of opinion obtained as to the nature and extent of the evils brought upon the world by the apostasy of our first parent. The Council of Trent declared those evils to be death, the loss of original righteousness, and sin which is pronounced to be the death of the soul. The Lutherans and Reformed held the same doctrine with more consistency and earnestness. But in all this diversity it was universally admitted, first, that certain evils are inflicted upon all mankind on account of Adam's sin; and, secondly, that those evils are penal. Men were universally, so far as the Church is concerned, held to bear in a greater or less degree the punishment of the sin of their first parent. 

Objections to the Doctrine

The great objection to this doctrine, that it is manifestly unjust that one man should be punished for the sin of another, has already been incidentally referred to. What is punishment? It is evil or suffering inflicted in support of law. Wherein is the injustice that one man should, on the ground of the union between them, be punished for the sin of another? If there be injustice in the case it must be in the infliction of suffering anterior to or irrespective of personal ill-desert. It does not consist in the motive of that infliction. The infliction of suffering to gratify malice or revenge is of course a crime. To inflict it in mere caprice is no less obviously wrong. To inflict it for the attainment of some right and desirable end may be not only just but benevolent. Is not the support of the divine law such an end? The fact that all mankind do suffer on account of Adam's sin no believer in the Bible can or does deny. It cannot be denied that these sufferings were designed. They are included in the threatenings made in the beginning. They were expressly declared to be penal in the Bible. The sentence of condemnation is said to have passed on all men for the offence of one man. A part of the penalty threatened against sin in the great progenitor of the race was that his posterity should suffer the consequences of his transgression. They do thus suffer. It is vain, therefore, to deny the fact, and no relief is obtained by denying that those sufferings are inflicted in execution of the penalty of the law and for the infinitely important object of sustaining its authority. 

§ 10. Mediate Imputation

About the middle of the seventeenth century Amyraut, Cappel, and La Place (or Placæus), three distinguished professors in the French theological school at Saumur, introduced several modifications of the Augustinian or Reformed doctrine on the decrees, election, the atonement, and the imputation of Adam's sin. La Place taught that we derive a corrupt nature from Adam, and that that corrupt nature, and not Adam's sin, is the ground of the condemnation which has come upon all mankind. When it was objected to this statement of the case that it left out of view the guilt of Adam's first sin, he answered that he did not deny the imputation of that sin, but simply made it dependent on our participation of his corrupted nature. We are inherently depraved, and therefore we are involved in the guilt of Adam's sin. There is no direct or immediate imputation of Adam's sin to his posterity, but only an indirect or mediate imputation of it, founded on the fact that we share his moral character. These views were first presented by La Place in a disputation, "De statu hominis lapsi ante gratiam," published in the "Theses Salmurienses," and afterwards more elaborately in a treatise, "De imputatione primi peccati Adami." This doctrine was formally condemned by the National Synod of France in 1644–45; by the Swiss churches in the "Formula Consensus;" and by the theologians of Holland. Jæger, a Lutheran divine, in his "Ecclesiastical History,"2 is justified in saying, "Contra doctrinam Placæi—tota Gallia reformata, quin et Theologi reformati in Hollandiâ surrexêre." The decree of the French Synod of Charenton on this subject is as follows: "Cum relatum esset ad Synodum, scripta quædam … prodisse, quæ totam rationem peccati originalis solâ corruptione hæreditariâ in omnibus hominibus inhærente definiunt, et primi peccati Adami imputationem negant: Damnavit Synodus doctrinam ejusmodi, quatenus peccati originalis naturam ad corruptionem hæreditariam posterum Adæ ita restringit, ut imputationem excludat primi illius peccati, quo lapsus est Adam: Adeoque censuris omnibus ecclesiasticis subjiciendos censuit pastores, professores, et quoscunque alios, qui in hujus quæstionis disceptatione a communi sententia recesserit Ecclesiarum Protestantium, quæ omnes hactenus et corruptionem illam, et imputationem hanc in omnes Adami posteros descendentem agnoverunt." 

It was to evade the force of this decision that Placæus proposed the distinction between mediate and immediate imputation. He said he did not deny the imputation of Adam's sin, but only that it preceded the view of hereditary corruption. But this is the very thing which the Synod asserted. Hereditary corruption, or spiritual death is the penalty, or, as expressed by the Lutheran confessions, by Calvin, and by the Protestants generally, it was an evil inflicted by "the just judgment of God, on account of Adam's sin (propter peccatum Adami)." The Formula Consensus Ecclesiarum Helveticarum was set forth 1675, in opposition to the doctrine of Amyraut on universal grace, to the doctrine of Placæus on mediate imputation, and to that of others concerning the active obedience of Christ. In that Formula it is said: "Censemus igitur (i.e., because the covenant of works was made not only with Adam, but also in him, with the whole human race) peccatum Adami omnibus ejus posteris, judicio Dei arcano et justo, imputari. Testatur quippe Apostolus 'in Adamo omnes peccasse:' 'Unius hominis inobedientia peccatores multos constitui;' et 'in eodem omnes mori.' Neque vero ratio apparet, quemadmodum hæreditaria corruptio, tanquam mors spiritualis, in universum genus humanum justo Dei judicio cadere possit, nisi ejusdem generis humani delictum aliquod, mortis illius reatum inducens, præcesserit. Cum Deus justissimus totius terræ judex nonnisi sontem puniat." 

Rivet, one of the professors of the University of Leyden, published a treatise in support of the decision of the French Synod, entitled "Decretum Synodi Nationalis Ecclesiarum Reformatarum Galliæ initio anni 1645, de Imputatione primi Peccati omnibus Adami posteris, cum Ecclesiarum et Doctorum Protestantium consensu, ex scriptis eorum ab Andrea Riveto collecto." This treatise is contained in the third volume of the folio edition of his works. His colleagues in the University published their formal indorsement of his work, and earnestly commended it as an antidote to the new doctrine of Placæus. The theologians of the other universities of Holland joined in this condemnation of the doctrine of mediate imputation. They call it the εὕρημα Imputationis Mediatæ a "ficulneum nuditatis indecentis tegumentum," and insist that the imputation of Adam's sin is no more founded on our inherent corruption than the imputation of Christ's righteousness is founded on our inherent holiness. "Quomodo et justitia Christi electis imputatur, non mediate per renovationem et obedientiam horum propriam, sed immediate, ad quam hæc ipsa propria eorum obedientia demum subsequitur." These two great doctrines were regarded as inseparably united. The Protestant theologians agree in holding that "Imputatio justitiæ Christi et culpæ Adami pari passu ambulant, et vel utraque ruit, vel utraque agnosci debet."2 

Mediate Imputation outside of the French Church

Although the doctrine of mediate imputation was thus generally condemned both by the Reformed and Lutheran Churches, it found some distinguished advocates beyond the pale of the French Church. The younger Vitringa, Venema, and Stapfer, in his "Polemical Theology," gave it their sanction. From the last named author it was adopted by President Edwards, in one chapter of his work on "Original Sin." It appears there, however, merely as an excrescence. It was not adopted into his system so as to qualify his theological views on other doctrines. Although President Edwards does clearly commit himself to the doctrine of Placæus, as he says, "that the evil disposition is first, and the charge of guilt consequent," nevertheless he expressly teaches the doctrine of immediate imputation formally and at length in other portions of that work. (1.) He argues through a whole section to prove the federal headship of Adam. (2.) He holds that the threatening of death made to Adam included the loss of original righteousness and spiritual death. (3.) That that threatening included his posterity, and that the evils which they suffer in consequence of his sin are truly penal. If this be so, if the loss of original righteousness and inherent depravity are penal, they suppose antecedent guilt. That is, a guilt antecedent, and not consequent to the existence and view of the depravity. (4.) In his exposition of Rom. 5:12–21, he expressly teaches the common doctrine, and says, "As this place in general is very full and plain, so the doctrine of the corruption of nature, as derived from Adam, and also the imputation of his first sin, are both clearly taught in it. The imputation of Adam's one transgression, is indeed most directly and frequently asserted. We are here assured that by one man's sin death passed on all; all being adjudged to this punishment as having sinned (so it is implied) in that one man's sin. And it is repeated, over and over, that all are condemned, many are dead, many made sinners, etc., by one man's offence, by the disobedience of one, and by one offence." As guilt precedes punishment, if, as Edwards says, depravity or spiritual death is a punishment, then the imputation of the guilt of Adam's first sin precedes depravity, and is not consequent upon it. This is the current representation throughout the work on Original Sin. It is only when in answer to the objection that it is unjust that we should be punished for the sin of Adam, that he enters on an abstruse metaphysical discussion on the nature of oneness or identity, and tries to prove2 that Adam and his posterity are one, and not distinct agents. It is, therefore, after all, realism, rather than mediate imputation, that Edwards for the time adopted. Placæus and his associates, in order to defend the ground which they had taken, appealed to many passages in the writings of earlier theologians which seemed to ignore the immediate imputation of Adam's sin, and to place the condemnation of the race mainly, if not exclusively, upon the hereditary depravity derived from our first parent. Such passages were easily to be found, and they are easily accounted for without assuming, contrary to the clearest evidence, that the direct imputation of Adam's sin was either doubted or denied. Before Arius arose with the direct denial of the true divinity of Christ and of the doctrine of the Trinity, the language of ecclesiastical writers was confused and contradictory. In like manner, even in the Latin Church, and in the writings of Augustine himself, much may be found, before the rise of the Pelagian controversy, which it is hard to reconcile with the Augustinian system. Augustine was obliged to publish a volume of retractions, and in many cases where he had nothing to retract, he found much to modify and explain. It is not wonderful, therefore, that before any one openly denied the doctrine of immediate imputation, and especially when the equally important doctrine of hereditary depravity was openly rejected by an influential party in the Romish Church, the Protestant theologians should apparently ignore a doctrine which no one denied, and devote their attention principally to the points which were then in controversy. Rivet, however, clearly shows that although not rendered prominent, the immediate imputation of Adam's sin was universally assumed. This is plain from the fact that all the evil consequences of Adam's apostasy, mortality, the loss of original righteousness, corruption of nature or spiritual death, etc., etc., were of the nature of punishment. What the Reformers were anxious to maintain was, that original hereditary depravity (concupiscence, in the language of the Latin Church) was of the nature of sin, and consequently that men do not perish eternally solely propter peccatum alienum, but also propter peccatum proprium. This was specially the case with Calvin. In the Confession of Faith which he drew up for the school in Geneva, it is said, "Singuli nascuntur originali peccato infecti … et a Deo damnati, non propter alienum delictum duntaxat, sed propter improbitatem, quæ intra eos est." And elsewhere he says: "Dicimus Deum justo judicio nobis in Adamo maledixisse, ac voluisse nos ob illius peccatum corruptos nasci, ut in Christo instauremur." Again: "Peccavit unus, omnes ad pœnam trahuntur, neque id modo, sed ex unius vitio, contagionem omnes contrahunt." Again: "Si quæratur causa maledictionis, quæ incumbit omnibus posteris Adæ, dicitur esse alienum peccatum, et cujusque proprium." To the same effect, Beza says: "Tria sunt quæ hominem reum constituunt coram Deo, (1.) Culpa promanans ex eo quod omnes peccavimus in proto lapso (Rom. 5:12). (2.) Corruptio quæ est pæna istius culpæ, impositam tam Adamo, quam posteris. (3.) Peccata quæ perpetrant homines adulti." Principal Cunningham3 calls attention to the fact that the doctrine of immediate imputation of Adam's sin is much more explicitly stated in the Westminster Larger and Shorter Catechisms than in the Confession of Faith. This he very naturally accounts for by the supposition that the denial of that doctrine by Placæus had not attracted attention in England when the Confession was framed (1646), but did become known before the Catechisms were completed. 

Objections to the Doctrine of Mediate Imputation

The leading objections against the doctrine of mediate imputation are,— 

1. That it denies what the Scriptures assert. The Scriptures assert that the sentence of condemnation has passed upon all men for the sin of one man. This the doctrine of mediate imputation denies, and affirms that the ground of that condemnation is inherent depravity. We are accounted partakers of Adam's sin only because we derive a corrupt nature from him. According to the Scriptures, however, the reason why we are depraved is, that we are regarded as partakers of his sin, or because the guilt of that sin is imputed to us. The guilt in the order of nature and fact precedes the spiritual death which is its penal consequent. 

2. This doctrine denies the penal character of the hereditary corruption in which all men are born. According to the Scriptures and to the faith of the church universal, mortality, the loss of original righteousness, and hereditary corruption are inflicted upon mankind in execution of the threatening made against Adam, and are included in the comprehensive word, death, by which the threatened penalty was expressed. This is as emphatically taught by President Edwards as by any other of the Reformed theologians. He devotes a section of his work to prove that the death mentioned in Genesis, and of which the Apostle speaks in Rom. 5:12, included spiritual death, and that the posterity of Adam were included in that penalty. He says: "The calamities which come upon them in consequence of his sin, are brought on them as punishments." He moreover says, it destroys the whole scope of the Apostle's argument "to suppose that the death of which he here speaks as coming on mankind by Adam's sin, comes not as a punishment."2 And again: "I do not suppose the natural depravity of the posterity of Adam is owing to the course of nature only; it is also owing to the just judgment of God." But punishment supposes guilt; if the loss of righteousness and the consequent corruption of nature are punishments, they suppose the antecedent imputation of guilt; and therefore imputation is immediate and not mediate; it is antecedent and not consequent to or upon inherent depravity. The view which the Reformed theologians uniformly present on this subject is, that God constituted Adam the head and representative of his race. The penalty attached to the covenant made with him, and which included his posterity, was the loss of the divine favour and fellowship. The consequences of the forfeiture of the divine favour in the case of Adam were, (1.) The loss of original righteousness; (2.) The consequent corruption of his whole nature; and, (3.) Exposure to eternal death. These consequences come on his posterity in the same order: first, the loss or rather destitution of original righteousness; and secondly, corruption of nature; and thirdly, exposure to eternal death; so that no child of Adam is exposed to eternal death irrespective of his own personal sinfulness and ill-desert. On this point Turrettin says: "Pœna quam peccatum Adami in nos accersit, vel est privativa, vel positiva. Prior est carentia et privatio justitiæ originalis; posterior est mors tum temporalis, tum æterna, et in genere mala omnia, quæ peccatoribus immittuntur. Etsi secunda necessario sequitur primam ex natura rei, nisi intercedat Dei misericordia, non debet tamen cum ea confundi. Quoad primam dicimus Adami peccatum nobis imputari immediate ad pœnam privativam, quia est causa privationis justitiæ originalis, et sic corruptionem antecedere debet saltem ordine naturæ; sed quoad posteriorem potest dici imputari mediate quoad pœnam positivam, quia isti pœnæ obnoxii non sumus, nisi postquam nati et corrupti sumus." Vogelsang2 says: "Certe neminem sempiterna subire supplicia propter inobedientiam protoplasti, nisi mediante cognata perversitate." And Mark says that if Placæus and others meant nothing more by mediate imputation than that "hominum natorum actualem punitionem ulteriorem non fieri nudo intuitur Adamicæ transgressionis absque interveniente etiam propria corruptione et fluentibus hinc sceleribus variis, neminem orthodoxum possent habere obloquentem." But he adds, they obviously meant much more. They deny the imputation of the first sin of Adam as the cause of this inherent corruption. As Adam by his apostasy became subject to eternal death, but through the intervention of redeeming grace was doubtless saved from it, so also although all his posterity become liable to the same dreadful penalty through their own inherent corruption, yet we have every reason to believe and hope that no human being ever actually perishes who does not personally incur the penalty of the law by his actual transgression. This however is through the redemption of Christ. All who die in infancy are doubtless saved, but they are saved by grace. It is nevertheless important that the real views of the Reformed Churches, on the doctrine of immediate imputation, should be clearly understood. Those churches do not teach that the first sin of Adam is the single and immediate ground of the condemnation of his posterity to eternal death, but that it is the ground of their forfeiture of the divine favour from which flows the loss of original righteousness and corruption of our whole nature, which in their turn become the proximate ground of exposure to final perdition, from which, however, as almost all Protestants believe, all are saved who have no other sins to answer for. 

Mediate Imputation increases the Difficulties to be accounted for

3. It is a further objection to the doctrine of mediate imputation that it increases instead of relieving the difficulty of the case. It denies that a covenant was made with Adam. It denies that mankind ever had a probation. It assumes that in virtue of a natural law of propagation when Adam lost the image of God and became sinful, his children inherit his character, and on the ground of that character are subject to the wrath and curse of God. All the evils therefore which the Scriptural and Church doctrine represent as coming upon the posterity of Adam as the judicial punishment of his first sin, the doctrine of mediate imputation represents as sovereign inflictions, or mere natural consequences. What the Scriptures declare to be a righteous judgment, Placæus makes to be an arbitrary dispensation. 

Inconsistent with the Apostle's Argument in Rom. 5:12–21

4. It is a still more serious objection that this doctrine destroys the parallel between Adam and Christ on which the Apostle lays so much stress in his Epistle to the Romans. The great point which he there labours to teach and to illustrate, and which he represents as a cardinal element of the method of salvation, is that men are justified for a righteousness which is not personally their own. To illustrate and confirm this great fundamental doctrine, he refers to the fact that men have been condemned for a sin which is not personally their own. He over and over insists that it was for the sin of Adam, and not for our own sin or sinfulness, that the sentence of death (the forfeiture of the divine favour) passed upon all men. It is on this ground he urges men the more confidently to rely upon the promise of justification on the ground of a righteousness which is not inherently ours. This parallel is destroyed, the doctrine and argument of the Apostle are overturned, if it be denied that the sin of Adam, as antecedent to any sin or sinfulness of our own is the ground of our condemnation. If we are partakers of the penal consequences of Adam's sin only because of the corrupt nature derived by a law of nature from him, then we are justified only on the ground of our own inherent holiness derived by a law of grace from Christ. We have thus the doctrine of subjective justification, which overthrows the great doctrine of the Reformation, and the great ground of the peace and confidence of the people of God, namely, that a righteousness not within us but wrought out for us,—the righteousness of another, even the eternal Son of God, and therefore an infinitely meritorious righteousness,—is the ground of our justification before God. Any doctrine which tends to invalidate or to weaken the Scriptural evidence of this fundamental article of our faith is fraught with evil greater than belongs to it in itself considered. This is the reason why the Reformed theologians so strenuously opposed the doctrine of La Place. They saw and said that on his principles the doctrine of the imputation of Christ's righteousness antecedent to our sanctification could not be defended. 

The Doctrine founded on a False Principle

5. Perhaps, however, the most serious objection against the doctrine of mediate imputation is drawn from the principle on which it rests, and the arguments of its advocates in its support. The great principle insisted upon in support of this doctrine is that one man cannot justly be punished for the sin of another. If this be so then it is unjust in God to visit the iniquities of the fathers upon their children. Then it was unjust in Christ to declare that the blood of the prophets slain from the beginning should come upon the men of his generation. Then it is unjust that the Jews of the present day, and ever since the crucifixion of our Lord, should be scattered and peeled, according to the predictions of the prophets, for the rejection of the Messiah. Then, also, were the deluge sent in wrath upon the world, and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the extermination of the Canaanites, in which thousands of children perished innocent of the offences for which those judgments were inflicted, all acts of stupendous injustice. If this principle be sound, then the administration of the divine government over the world, God's dealings with nations and with the Church, admit of no defence. He has from the beginning and through all time held children responsible for the conduct of parents, included them without their consent in the covenants made with their fathers, and visited upon them the consequences of the violations of such covenants of which they were not personally guilty, as well as bestowed upon them rich blessings secured by the fidelity of their progenitors without anything meritorious on their part. Moreover, if the principle in question be valid, then the whole Scriptural doctrine of sacrifice and expiation is a delusion. And then, also, we must adopt the Socinian theory which makes the death of Christ instead of a penal satisfaction for sin, a mere symbolical inculcation of a truth—a didactic and not an expiatory service. The Reformed theologians of the seventeenth century expressed their deep regret that men professing orthodoxy should adopt from Pelagianis et Pelagianizantibus, against the doctrine of immediate imputation, "exceptiones" et "objectiones … petitas a Dei justitia et veritate, ab actus et personæ Adamicæ singularitate, ex sceleris longe ante nos præterito tempore, ex posterum nulla scientia vel consensione in illud, ex non imputatis aliis omnibus factis et fatis Adami, etc.," which had so often been answered in the controversies with the Socinians and Remonstrants. It is very clear that if no such constitution can be righteously established between men, even by God, that one man may justly bear the iniquity of another, then the Bible and Providence become alike unintelligible, and the great doctrines of the Christian faith are overthrown. 


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