The Third Lord’s Day
Therefore as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin,
so death passed upon all men, in whom all have sinned.
The Apostle’s purpose in this passage is to illustrate that Doctrine which he had taught before concerning justification by Jesus Christ; for this end he makes a comparison of the likeness between this grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the sin of Adam, our first father after the flesh. And the comparison runs upon the efficacy and effects of each of them. The proposition of the comparison is in v.12, and the answer to it is afterward explicated by way of parenthesis [in verses 13-17].23 In the proposition, Adam is set forth as the cause of a twofold effect: bringing in sin, and bringing in death. And the reason for the Connexion of these effects with that cause is given in the last words of this verse; namely, from the conjunction24 that all had with Adam in that first sin — in these words, In whom all men, etc.
Doctrine 1. Sin entered into the world, not by God’s creation, but by man’s defection.
This is manifest in the text, by one man, not by God, etc.
Reason 1. Because God made man upright and after his own image; that is, not only free from all sin (which may in some way also be said of all other creatures), but God also adorned man with all those endowments and faculties whereby God’s nature might be expressed and represented, as in a portrait; and by the help of these in keeping the law, man might have attained to a certain sort of divine blessedness or felicity. For just as there is no fault in a portrait if it is well-drawn or made by a perfect workman, unless the fault is in the original from which the portrait is taken, so also there could be no fault in man, who was created according to God’s image by God himself, unless some fault is attributed to God himself, whose image is man.25
Reason 2. Because God not only prescribed a law to man in the Creation, but also engraved it on his heart; it was by this means that man had in himself a most certain Testimony of his uprightness, in which and to which he was created, and with a most sufficient and ready means of living well and unblameably to God. For the law of God perfectly and purely written in the heart of man, is as it were a solemn Testimony registered in a Tablet or Book, that man was made fit and able to keep that Law. It is as it were the voice of God sent down from Heaven, whereby man was called and stirred up to observe that way of living which is taught by it.
Reason 3. Because God added to it a pledge and sacrament in the Tree of Life, by which he would have that Covenant of the Law, written in the heart, more clearly confirmed outwardly; namely, that he would by the observation of his Law, first perpetuate man’s life in this world to solemnly justify him, at his appointed time, and then advance him to a further and heavenly Felicity. And on the other side, he threatens him with Death in case he were to depart from the Will and Law of God: all of which would have been done to no purpose if man had at first been made by God in any measure or manner sinful and perverse.
Reason 4. So far was God from being the cause of sin in the first creation of man, that by no means can it be conceived how God at any time can be the cause of any sin — because, seeing that sin is a defect, it can have no other cause but a deficient one; seeing that God is perfection itself, he can in no way nor ever be deficient.
Use. Of Direction: that in all our speech and thoughts we may keep God’s glory untouched and unspotted, and confess that all the good we have, always comes from him; but that all the evil that we either do or suffer, does not arise from him, but from ourselves.
Doctrine 2. Through Adam’s first disobedience sin passed upon all his posterity.
Nor did this happen only by way of imitation, as the Pelagians teach, but also by way of propagation or natural descent. This is proved by this argument: if this had only come to pass by
that Adam with all his posterity sinned in the angels, who first fell from God, as to have said that all men sinned in Adam — because they as much follow the example of the angels as of Adam. For it is expressly said in verse 14, That death (and so also sin) reigned over those who had not sinned after the likeness of Adam, that is, by the imitation of Adam. Therefore, verse 19, men are said to be made sinners by Adam’s disobedience itself.
The manner of this propagation is taken up and understood to mean, 1. To stand in imputation, because that first transgression was held as the transgression of the whole nature of mankind. For as in receiving the benefits and endowments that belonged to all mankind, Adam bore the place and person of all men, so also it was only right and reasonable that he should maintain their place, either in their conservation by obedience, or their loss by disobedience, until they were capable of standing to, or falling from, their primitive condition in their own persons. In this he was, as it were, the Surety of all mankind; so that what he did in this business, was to be held valid by all as done in their names. 2. The second degree of this Propagation stands in the derivation, or transduction26 of that corruption, which by our first transgression seized upon the person of Adam himself. This corruption is usually called the languishing of nature, the seed or tinder of sin, the law of our members, the law of the flesh, lust and sin that dwells in us; but most usually original sin, because it clings to us even from our first origin, and in some way it is natural to us, as in our corrupted nature; also it is the origin of all other sins: for all actual sins
flow from this as from their fountain.
This corruption first and principally consists in the privation of original righteousness, the absence of which, so far as it is penal, is inflicted by God; but as it is a privation, having the nature of a fault — in the loss of that rectitude or right constitution which we would have kept and preserved entire — it depends upon that relation which all men have to Adam, and to his first sin.
Now that such corruption is naturally found in all men, is not only proved from Scripture, but it also seems to be confirmed by experience itself.
Reason 1. For in all men there appears a manifest perversion of our wills and inward appetite — in as much as spiritual and truly good things have no good relish to all animal and natural men;27 but the contrary evils, which of their own nature have no good relish, seem most sweet to them. Now as the perversion of the sensitive appetite denotes bodily sickness, so the perversion of the inmost and most spiritual appetite, points out to us a sickness that is inward and in the spirit. The same may also be observed about the perversion of the judgment and understanding, from which come so many and shameful errours, whereby good is esteemed evil, and evil good.
Reason 2. It is manifest that there is in all men a certain rebellion of the inferior and animal faculties and appetites, against the superior and most spiritual faculties of the soul; this shows the sickness of the upper part, as not having strength enough to govern the lower; and again a disorder and confusion of the inferior faculties whereby they will not be subject to their superior. For as
every infirmity, debility, and perturbation in the body, has its cause of sickness, disease, or certain corruption from the depravation of other parts, so it is also in the soul.
Reason 3. There may be observed in all, a certain natural crouching of ourselves to things that are below us, and a certain aversion and turning away from those that are above us and for which we were made; so that there are few among men who do not live more like beasts, stooping naturally to their belly-food, and bowing towards the ground, than according to the nature of man whose body was erected to look up to heaven and seek after God. Now just as crouching in the constitution and fashioning of the body is a sign of a bodily sickness, so also this soul-crouching of the spirit manifestly declares some soul-sickness of the spirit.
Reason 4. There manifestly appears in all men a certain insensibility from nature itself, in discerning things that are truly good, and truly evil. Nevertheless there is a far greater sweetness in true spiritual good things, than in corporal good things, and a far greater bitterness and sorrow in spiritual things, than in carnal evils. Now this insensibility and spiritual blockishness is a manifest defect and vice, clinging to us from our very origin, even as the lack of any outward sense is a great defect and fault of the body.
Reason 5. Experience teaches that only with great difficulty and slowness are men stirred up to things that are truly good. Therefore, as it is the definition of a good habit, that it makes a man ready and quick to do good works, so it must be an evil and corrupt
habit, whereby the contrary comes to pass; because it is only slowly and with difficulty that men set themselves to any good endeavors.
Reason 6. It is well enough known to all, that man does not have the power to do so much good as he knows should be done, and as he desires to do. Therefore, when one does not have the power to move the members of his body, it is a manifest disease that hinders its motion. Thus where one does not have the power to move himself spiritually, it is a manifest spiritual disease. Just as it reveals a great weakness of his body when bodily motion is difficult and one moves his body with great pains, even so this other reveals a weakness of the spirit.
Use 1. For Humiliation: by reason of this misery.
Use 2. Of Exhortation: that we do not rest until we perceive that we are freed from this misery by the grace of God.
Use 3. For Direction: that in our prayers before God, and in all parts of our care for the amendment of our life, we may chiefly go about this — that we be reformed not only in our outward words and works, as being only the rivulets and branches of our sin, but that we may be cleansed and renewed in the fountain and root of this sin dwelling in us.
Excerpt from William Ames, The Substance of Christian Religion