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“We believe that, through the disobedience of Adam, original sin is extended to all mankind; which is a corruption of the whole nature, and an hereditary disease; wherewith infants themselves are infected even in their mother’s womb, and which produceth in man all sorts of sin, being in him as a root thereof; and therefore is so vile, and abominable in the sight of God, that it is sufficient to condemn all mankind. Nor is it by any means abolished or done away by baptism; since sin always issues forth from this woeful source, as water from a fountain; notwithstanding it is not imputed to the children of God unto condemnation, but by his grace and mercy is forgiven them. Not that they should rest securely in sin, but that a sense of this corruption should make believers often to sigh, desiring to be delivered from this body of death. Wherefore we reject the error of the Pelagians, who assert that sin proceeds only from imitation.” 

Article XV, The Belgic Confession


Anyone who wishes an answer to the “why” of sin can do no better than consult this statement of ourConfession. Why the abounding lawlessness, the immorality, the filth, the murder, war, crime, the lying and cheating, the blasphemy and cursing, the drunkenness and drug abuse, the hatred of God and neighbor? The answer is: “. . .through the disobedience of Adam, original sin is extended to all mankind; which is a corruption of the whole nature, and an hereditary disease . . . which produceth in man all sorts of sin. . .” This article of the Creed succinctly states the sobering, humiliating truth of Scripture concerning the reason for the universal phenomenon of sin. Sin must be traced to Adam and his fall. In Adam the whole race of mankind was plunged into sin and death. This is also the relationship between this article and the preceding. Article fourteen speaks of the creation and fall of man and his incapacity to perform what is truly good. Adam through his fall into sin lost all his excellent gifts and became a slave to sin. These same dire consequences have passed to all men. “through the disobedience of Adam.” All are totally depraved, which is to say, incapable of any good. 

The crucial significance of this truth of original sin can hardly be overly stressed. A denial of it leads, inevitably to a denial of salvation through the satisfaction of Jesus’ death and resurrection by the sovereign grace of God. No doubt it is for this reason that Augustine stoutly defended the doctrine of original sin in his polemic with Pelagius; Luther and Calvin followed in Augustine’s steps in their battles with Erasmus and Pighius. The fathers of Dordt recognized this significance and did not hesitate to call Arminianism “the Pelagian error out of hell.” (Cf.Canons of Dordrecht, Second Head, Rejection of Errors, III) At this critical juncture there must be no compromise. Either we deny this truth and then we must look within man himself for salvation; or we take our stand with our Confession and heed the voice of our fathers and then we rejoice in salvation by grace alone. 

It should be noted that the article stresses the doctrine of original sin only from the viewpoint of the organic and spiritual, ethical character of sin. It does not speak of original sin from the legal point of view. This truth is important and for that reason we shall make a few comments concerning it. The entire human race was created as a legal corporation in Adam. Adam, therefore, was the legal representative of the race, the representative head of mankind. In a judicial or legal sense Adam represented all of mankind before the face of God. Adam stood in this capacity in the state of righteousness so that his first act of sin could be imputed to all of mankind. Adam’s sin of eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, therefore, was a representative sin. And, the guilt of this original sin God imputed to all of mankind. All men very really became guilty for this one transgression which Adam, the legal head of the race, committed. 

Because Adam stood as the legal representative of the race he was also the organic head of mankind and the father of the human race. The whole human race, in other words, was not only juridically in him, but also organically. Every human nature was principally found in Adam. Adam was the root out of which the tree of the human race sprang. He was the seed whence proceeded all men. This means that there is a living and organic connection between Adam and all men. All are born in his generations and are the “sons of Adam.” (Cf. Deuteronomy. 32:8) The Scriptures make this very clear:

“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 ah men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.”

Romans 5:12-19, I Cor. 15:21, 22

This passage teaches that sin entered into the world and as a consequence death passed upon all men “by one man.” That one man was Adam, the organic head and father of the human race. The Apostle concludes that by the offence of one (Adam) the judgment came upon all men to condemnation. This is because Adam was the legal head, the representative of the corporation of the human race. 

This is the explanation for the universal phenomenon of sin. When Adam fell, as we saw in connection with the previous article, his entire nature became corrupt and depraved. Sin ruled his entire nature, subjecting it to sin’s service. Adam died spiritually and became a spiritual and moral corpse. This meant that he was incapable of doing any good at all. According to his fallen, depraved “mind of the flesh” he was not and could not be subject to the will of God. (cf. Romans 8:6-8) Besides, even physically Adam died. The moment he fell into sin death began to move in his members. He began the descent to the grave. Because he stood as the legal and organic head and father of the race all this is passed to all men. In Adam the whole race died.

This original corruption the article describes as: “a corruption of the whole nature,’ and an hereditary disease, wherewith infants themselves are infected even in their mother’s womb, and which produceth in man all sorts of Sin, being in him as a root thereof.” This simply means that because Adam’s corruption involved his entire nature, that nature brings forth other natures equally involved in corruption. Even infants and that too in their mothers’ wombs are conceived and born in this corruption. David, when inspired by the Holy Spirit to write Psalm 51, understood this very well. When confronted with his sins of murder and adultery with Bathsheba by Nathan the prophet, David laments: “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.” (Ps. 51:6) And David realizes that what he needs is nothing less than that God create in him a clean heart and renew a right spirit within him. (Verse 10) This corruption is compared to a “hereditary disease” which affects all who are born and to a root which in each individual produces the full tree of his sin. In another sense too Adam’s original sin was a root sin. It is the sin out of which grows every sin evidenced in the entire history of the human race. Each sin of each person is only a further development and another manifestation of Adam’s sin. Thus it is that sin develops in the line of generations and in harmony with each man’s place in creation and history. Gradually the hereditary disease of sin grows and develops, spreads and permeates until it culminates in the Man of Sin, the Antichrist himself. Then the cup of man’s iniquity is full and he is ripe for final judgment. This is the doctrine of the organic development of sin. TheConfession alludes to it in another figure when it states: “Sin always issues forth from this woeful source, as water from a fountain.” This truth is clearly taught in the Scriptures. Romans 3:10-18 describes this hereditary disease as it affects all mankind in these terms:

“As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable: there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

That and nothing less is the magnitude and the horror of the foul fountain of sin into which everyone is conceived and born. 

We notice too that the article condemns several errors. With the words “nor is it (original sin) by any means abolished or done away by baptism” the Confessioncondemns an error of Roman Catholicism which teaches that original corruption is taken away by the sacrament of baptism. The result is that a man is held accountable only for those sins which he commits during his life. The article refutes this position with the words: “since sin always issues forth from this woeful source, as water from a fountain.” The real explanation for sin, therefore, is that all our actual sins proceed from the woeful source of the fountain of a corrupt nature inherited from Adam. It is true enough that original guilt is not imputed unto the children of God unto condemnation, but by God’s grace and mercy is forgiven them on the basis of the shed blood of the Savior. This is the symbolism of the water of baptism. But original pollution remains. According to his sinful nature the child of God cannot do the good. Daily he must confess with the holy Apostle: “For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do . . . O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:19, 24

Thus too with our Confession we “reject the error of the Pelagians, who assert that sin proceeds only from imitation.” Pelagianism teaches that there is no such thing as original sin. Every child comes into the world as a blank slate upon which can be found no traces of sin. Sin is to be explained from the fact that people fall into evil deeds by imitating the example of others. Everyone is born into a sinful environment and falls into the habit of sin. This doctrine is as pernicious as it is false. Denying the reality and the magnitude of original guilt and corruption it must needs deny salvation by the grace of God. This is also, as noted above, the root error of Arminianism. Arminianism is only a modified form of Pelagianism and is characterized by a very superficial view of sin. This radically affects Arminianism’s conception of the atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Finally the article condemns the view that the truth that original sin is not imputed to the elect unto condemnation produces in them a carnal security, a “let us sin that grace may abound” attitude. This is utterly impossible. One who truly knows sin in all its horrible power, and one who truly knows his own sinful nature and. who at the same time knows the mighty power of God’s saving grace will hate and flee his sin, crying daily for forgiveness. (Cf. also the Heidelberg Catechism, L.D. XXIV, Q. 64) The believer always has a profound sense of his corruption and this causes him “often to sigh, desiring to be delivered from this body of death.” He realizes that he has but a small beginning of the new obedience. Daily he fights to put off the old man and put on the new (Eph. 4:17ff.): His response to all carnal security, the “let us sin that grace may abound” attitude is always a vigorous, “GOD FORBID!” (Romans 6:1ff.)