The previous two chapters of the Westminster Confession have dealt with creation and providence. The Confession next treats, in Chapter VI, the fall of man into sin. God’s relationship to man before the fall is saved for Chapter VII, sections 1 and 2.
Let us now consider, with the Westminster Confession, man’s fall into sin.
1. Our first parents being seduced by the subtilty and temptation of Satan, sinned in eating the forbidden fruit.(a) This their sin God was pleased, according to His wise and holy counsel, to permit, being purposed to order it to His own glory.(b)
b. Romans 11:32.
2. By this sin they fell from their original righteousness, and communion with God,(a) and so became dead in sin,(b) and wholly defiled in ah the faculties and parts of soul and body.(c)
3. They being the root of all mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed,(a) and the same death in sin and corrupted nature conveyed to all their posterity, descending from them by ordinary generation.(b)
4. From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good,(a) and wholly inclined to all evil,(b) do proceed all actual transgressions(c)
a. Romans 5:6;8:7;7:18;Colossians 1:21.
b. Genesis 6:5; 8:21Romans 3:10-12.
5. This corruption of nature, during this life, doth remain in those that are regenerated(a) and although it be through Christ pardoned and mortified, yet both itself, and ah the motions thereof, are truly and properly sin.(b)
b. Romans 7:5,7,8,25; Galatians 5:17.
6. Every sin, both original and actual, being a transgression of the righteous law of God, and contrary thereunto,(a) doth in its own nature, bring guilt upon the sinner,(b) whereby he is bound over to the wrath of God,(c) and curse of the law,(d) and so made subject to death,(e)
with miseries spiritual,(f) temporal,(g) and eternal.(h)
a. I John 3:4.
b. Romans 2:15; 3:19,19.
c. Ephesians 2:3.
d. Galatians 3:10.
e. Romans 6:23.
f . Ephesians 4:18.
It seems to be with care that the fathers of the Westminster write this chapter on the fall of man into sin, and the effects of that fall, describing also the nature of sin and defining the punishment brought against sin by God. Undoubtedly the reason for this care is its importance in relationship to the subject of salvation. According to one’s conception of sin will be his conception of grace. If sin is a light matter, so is grace. Anyone who makes light of sin, sees little accomplished upon Calvary. Is that your problem? And mine?
Once again the readers of the Confession are told that the glory of God is involved. God decreed the original sin “to His own glory.” No one can deny that the Westminster Confession is theocentric. It is from that perspective that one must understand the word “permit.” To keep from repeating ourselves we refer you to our previous article on chapter V (Of Providence), particularly section 4. Thus, Adam’s original sin was not a mistake. It was not something God did not plan. Woe to those who think such. God, from eternity and already at the very beginning of time, was making way for the second Adam. All is planned. To God be the glory.
God made man perfect, yet “subject to change” (Chapter IV, section 2). In this state Adam and Eve were to show .their love of God in the way of obedience to His command not to eat of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Obedience proved their allegiance and submission to God.
The dreadfulness of the original sin was disobedience. They doubted the wisdom of God’s prohibition to eat of the fruit of that tree. They set their will in opposition to His will. God did not cause or approve of this sin. God forbade it. He gave the penalty of death as a deterring motivation.
Although the Confession states that sin is disobedience to God (“eating the forbidden fruit”), the Westminster Assembly defines sin in the catechisms.
Q. 24. What is sin?
The definition comprehensively defines sin by showing the negative as well as the positive. Sin is not being and not doing what God requires, besides being and doing what God forbids. Not being conformed to God’s law is a much a sin as committing a crime. A lack of love toward our neighbor is as much sin as hating him. An absence of right as well as the presence of wrong is sin.
Why did God determine such a fall? All we may say is, “Even so, Father; for so it seemed good in Thy sight” (Matthew 11:26).
Section two gives the effects of the sin upon Adam and Eve. “They fell from…communion with God.” Notice that before the fall the relationship which man had with God is described as communion. That communion is the essence of the covenant. Loving fellowship with the Divine Being was lost. That is the essential effect of sin. Man was created in a covenant relation to God and the instantaneous punishment for disobedience was exclusion from the source of all moral and spiritual life. That is death.
Consequently our first parents lost their original righteousness. They lost the image of God. Immediately they fell from allegiance to God (holiness). Love of God no longer dominated their hearts (true knowledge of God).
The Confession goes on to describe the totality of their fall and depravity. The fathers of the Assembly use language which many of today’s Presbyterians should heed. Nothing is left untouched by the fall. In fact, everything is completely defiled: “wholly defiled in allthe faculties and parts.” Not just the heart became totally depraved (Jeremiah 17:9), but also the mind, the will, the conscience, the emotions, every part of man was defiled. And that defilement of every part was “wholly.”
Theologians have tried to change the language of Scripture and of the Confession on this, but they fail miserably for all their verbal gymnastics. Fallen man is “utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite unto all that is spiritually good and wholly inclined to all evil, and that continually” (Larger Catechism, q. 25).
Simply stated, man by the fall into sin “became dead in sin.”
Sections three and four explain the sinfulness of sin as it affects the descendants of Adam and Eve. Because they stand as the root of all mankind their original sin affects their posterity in a two-fold way: guilt is imputed and corruption is conveyed. This is the reason why all mankind, with only one exception, fell in the first man.
“Guilt” is the just liability to the punishment of sin, namely, death. “Impute” is the act of God of laying to one’s charge or credit as a ground of judicial punishment or justification (cf. Romans 4:6 and II Corinthians 5:19). The Confession states that the guilt (just liability to the penalty) of Adam’s disobedience is by God imputed to (judicially laid to the charge of) each of his descendants. Adam was divinely constituted to represent and act for all his posterity. This is because “the covenant being made with Adam, as a public person, not for himself only, but for his posterity, all mindkind” (Larger Catechism, q. 22). This truth of original guilt is taught in Romans 5:12ff and I Corinthians 15:21-22.
Besides original guilt, there is original corruption. Death in sin and a corrupted nature is conveyed to all mankind. Every human being by nature comes into existence morally and spiritually dead, i.e., without communion with God. Our actual sins and miseries occur as the natural consequence of our being conceived in sin. The “same death in sin” is being “utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil.”
How can anyone talk about the natural man being able to think, will, desire, or do good? Man’s moral corruption is so radical and deeply rooted that he is disabled from right, moral action. This is the teaching of Scripture in Romans 3:1-19 and Ephesians 4:18-19. Man by nature is dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1 andJohn 3:4-5). Sin reigns, has dominion, and makes man its servant (Romans 6:12-16).
Sin is not merely in actual deed. The actual transgressions are the most evident and obvious, but they are neither the majority nor the most serious. The greatest burden of sin is not in what we have done, but in what we are. “O wretched man that I am!” This is the root of actual sins.
Such depravity is not removed easily. Moral reformation or change of purpose accomplishes nothing. Only the Almighty in regeneration can cause a change in such men. Recall the forcefulness of the language of Scripture in speaking of regeneration: a new birth, a new creation, and a quickening from the dead.
The fifth section of the Confession deals with the corruption that remains in the regenerated. As we just saw, the only escape from death in sin is by regeneration. But the corruption of nature remains with the regenerated and forgiven saint as long as he lives in this life.
Innate moral corruption remains with the believer in this life, contrary to what perfectionists might, say. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (I John 2:8). Let none of us let our flesh find here an excuse for unlawful activities. Although this section is simply recognizing the fact of our sinful flesh remaining with us all our earthly life, notice the perspective taken in this section. There is no other way one might describe this activity of the believer’s flesh than by the word “sin.” Let us not use other terminology than that of Scripture to describe this activity of the flesh: sin. No excuse is given here, but rather continual reason for humiliation and constant fleeing for refuge to the cross of Christ. “We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” Sin, corruptible, damnworthy sin remains in us until death. No true believer finds an excuse for sin here.
In the last section of this chapter the Confession treats the subject of the punishment of sin.
Notice that it is emphasized that sin is “the transgression of the law” of God (I John 3:4). Sin is not something one commits only against his fellowman. A man in flirtation does not merely do something against his wife. A mouthy child is not only offending his parents. The horror of sin is that it is “committed against the most high majesty of God” (Heidelberg Catechism, q. 11). God establishes the rule of the perfection of His “most high majesty” in the Ten Commandments. This is the sole standard for good and right conduct. Anything less is sin. Therefore, any sin deserves the curse of the law. God is described in Chapter II, section 1 of the Confession as “most just and terrible in His judgments; hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty.”
Therefore men are “by nature children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3). Hence, too, salvation comes in no other way than by Christ redeeming “us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13).
The wrath of God for sin brings upon man death, “for the wages of sin is death.”
Also the wrath of God against sin brings upon the unbeliever “all miseries, spiritual, temporal, and eternal.” Consider the terrible consequences of sin as stated in the Larger Catechism.
Q. 28. What are the punishments of sin in this world?
A. The punishments of sin in this world are either inward, as blindness of mind, a reprobate sense, strong declusions, hardness of heart, horror of conscience, and vile affections; or outward, 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.
Q. 29. What are the punishments of sin in the world to come?
A. The punishments of sin in the world to come, are everlasting separation from the comfortable presence of God, and most grievous torments in soul and body, without intermission, in hell-fire for ever.
After reading of such punishment let us repent and believe in Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God for One Who bore such punishments for us.