Rev. Key is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Randolph, Wisconsin.

Sin entered this world exactly as it is recorded for us in the book of Genesis, chapter 3.1 We believe the historical account of God’s Scriptures. According to God’s own account, as revealed by His Spirit to Moses and thus recorded in Genesis 3, a sorrowful transgression took place in that beautiful garden which was the first paradise. In the midst of that God-glorifying creation, in that tabernacle which God had created as the place where He delighted to meet in covenant fellowship with the man whom He had created after His own image, in that paradise where everything breathed of the perfection and greatness of the living God, there man sinned and brought corruption upon himself and his posterity.

There in the first paradise the perfect man robbed God of His due honor. He cast God out of his heart. He severed the bonds of friendship, only to reestablish a bond of friendship with the devil himself. He who had been created to manifest his love and affection to his Creator committed spiritual suicide. He kindled the fires of hell, as it were, with his own hands! And, in doing so, Adam brought the whole human race into the bondage of guilt and sin and death.

By man corruption entered the world — by man who was created in the image of God. By man who was in need of nothing, to whom God had given everything, the whole world was cast into spiritual poverty. By the first man, Adam, the whole human race was cast into bondage to sin and corruption.Dead in sin! That describes man as the consequence of Adam’s fall.

An Unpopular Doctrine

The truth of which we speak is a very unpopular doctrine. That man sins is undeniable. Sin is everywhere. It surrounds us; it follows us; it is within us. It speaks to us from every page of our daily newspapers. It is openly portrayed on the television screen and is found in the streets of even our smallest communities.

Furthermore, that sinful man is under the power of death is also undeniable. There is no man that will say with confidence, “I am not going to die.” Sin and death are a universal phenomenon in this world—although some, not knowing or not believing the Bible, may want to avoid connecting the two.

But the extent of sin’s power over man is a very unpopular truth today. In this day when self-esteem is the rage, and when any talk about sin is viewed as a thing detrimental to man’s psyche, to speak about being corrupt and filled with hatred and evil is not popular, even among those who are called to preach the Word. Many who stand in pulpits today would rather speak sweet things, without regard to whether or not they be true. When the Heidelberg Catechism insists that we are so corrupt that we are wholly incapable of doing any good and inclined to all wickedness except we are regenerated by the Spirit of God, it is no wonder that men object strenuously.

This rejection of what the Bible says about the extent of our corruption is nothing new. It really goes as far back as Adam, who pointed his finger at the woman, the implication being that he was not as bad as she.

But there are questions that arise in our minds which Adam did not have to face. After all, he was directly involved in committing the first sin. But how is it possible that I am corrupt for that which Adam did thousands of years ago? I don’t know the man; I was not there when he sinned; I likely don’t even have the same skin color. How can I bear any blame or guilt for something Adam did?

Those are questions that demand an answer. Regardless of the answer, the fact is clearly set forth in Romans 5: By the one sin of Adam, the whole human race was brought under the dominion of guilt and corruption. But how? That is the question.

The Influence of Pelagius

There was a man who came up with an answer to this question. His name was Pelagius. He was a church man, a monk, who lived in the late fourth and early fifth centuries. His answer was basically this: All sin must be an individual act, and all guilt is only the consequence of that individual act.

That answer of Pelagius sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? I like that. It seems only fair. If Adam did something, that’s not my problem. If you sin, that’s not my problem. Only if I commit the sin do I bear any consequences of it.

Pelagius taught more. He taught that the sin of Adam affected only himself, and did not corrupt his children at all. All infants, therefore, are born in exactly the same state and condition as that of Adam before the fall. The problem is: Adam gave us a bad example, and we by nature are imitators. We too must make choices, as Adam had to, between good and evil. And because of the evil environment into which we are born, most of us become sinful and corrupt.

I like that too, don’t you? When we do wrong, you see, we can blame our environment. We can blame the bad example of our parents. We can blame sinful church members. We can blame that teacher, that employer, that politician.

Along these same lines Pelagius taught that the solution is to be found along the lines of gradual development. If we can improve a man’s environment and give him a better education and better surroundings, he soon will choose what is right and will serve God.

Pelagius did not want the truth of total depravity. He did not want to say that man is bad, rotten to the core. He wanted to find good in man, in every man, an original goodness in every man, by which man himself has power to prevail over evil. The problem was that his answer had no basis in Scripture. It was, therefore, a wrong answer.

God raised up Augustine to defend the truth of the Scriptures over against the Pelagian error. And through the course of history God preserved the true faith in the line of those followers of Augustine, who himself followed the teachings of Scripture.

The trouble was that not many wanted to stand with Augustine on the foundation of Bible truth. The teachings of Pelagius, because they were so appealing to the nature and pride of man, were well received by the church at large.

Before too many years, with only slight change, the views of Pelagius had become the views of the church. And those views, which in their altered state became known as semi-Pelagianism, permeate not only the entire Roman Catholic doctrine of salvation, but, sad to say, much of Protestant doctrine as well in our day, even in those churches that once were Reformed. The truth of total depravity is corrupted and rejected.

Adam’s Legal Headship

When we turn to Romans 5, verses 12 and following, we find the very clear teaching that we stand in such a close relationship to Adam that his fall had a profound effect upon us all. “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned…. 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” (Rom. 5:12,18).

The same truth is expressed in I Corinthians 15:22: “For as in Adam all die….”

That one man, Adam, was the gateway through which the awful flood of sin broke upon the whole human race. And in the wake of that flood of sin came death. Because we are Adamites, we are under sin’s domain.

The explanation for that is found in this, that Adam stood as the legal head of the whole human race.

You will notice that the whole section of Romans 5, verse 12 to the end of the chapter, speaks in legal terms—offense, judgment, condemnation, righteousness, justification—all legal terms. In the eighteenth verse it is not the question of personal corruption and actual, personal sin that the apostle speaks about. He is speaking about our guilt.

To be guilty is to be deserving of punishment, a punishment that fits the crime of which we are guilty. The apostle speaks of judgment that comes upon all men because of one man’s offense.

Condemnation has come upon all men. And this condemnation is just! But what is its justice? This condemnation comes upon all and has its basis of justice, not in the many offenses of all men, but in the one offense of the first man, Adam. Adam’s guilt is imputed, is charged, to all mankind, to each and every one of his posterity.

The only way that that can be is on the basis of a legal oneness between Adam and all men. There is a legal solidarity of the entire human race in Adam as its representative head.

The truth of Scripture condemns all individualism when it comes to man. That is why the unity of the church is such an important factor, to which we are called repeatedly in Scripture. We are one body. And though there are many individual members, many persons, yet are we one. So it is with the entire human race.

Pelagius and all his followers want individualism. Scripture condemns individualism and teaches corporate oneness, corporate responsibility, corporate guilt. When Adam sinned that first sin in paradise, we sinned. We all sinned in Adam. We all became guilty when that one man, Adam, our legal head, fell and declared war against the Almighty God.

Perhaps the question arises: Why did God create the human race with such a legal solidarity in Adam? Be careful how you ask that question. If your question contains even a hint of sinful criticism of God’s way, to you comes the Word of God in Romans 9:20: “Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?” God has the perfect right as Creator to form His creation according to His will and good pleasure.

But should you ask the question by faith, with the desire to know your Creator better — Why did God create the human race with such a legal solidarity in Adam — the answer from Scripture is plain: In wisdom God established such a legal relationship between Adam and the human race, for it was His purpose to save to Himself a people in Christ. From that fallen race in Adam, God would redeem a people who stand in a similar relationship to their Redeemer who is Christ, the last Adam and the Lord from heaven. 

1 Because Prof. H.C. Hoeksema’s account of the fall is being reprinted in the Standard Bearer I will not enter into a discussion of the historical development of the fall, but refer the readers to those articles.