Rev. Key is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Randolph, Wisconsin.
When we consider the truth concerning man’s sin and the total depravity of the human nature, we must also, recognize that there is progression, an ongoing development in sin’s manifestation among men. The corruption of the human race continues to become manifest in ever-increasing measure.
We make a statement here that clearly touches on our view of the last times. We cannot develop that doctrine of the last things now. In the rubric, “Taking Heed to Doctrine,” we want to continue in an orderly progression through the whole sum of doctrine. Our biblical consideration of eschatology, therefore, is far down the road. For now we refer you to the recent and ongoing editorials of Prof. Engelsma, as he has been treating the Reformed and biblical doctrine of the last things. But Scripture teaches that sin develops in such a way that at the end of the ages the sinfulness of man will reach its greatest manifestation, and the cup of iniquity will be filled.That belongs to the very nature of sin.
All the sins of the whole human race are sins that develop from the evil root of Adam’s sin.
From the time of the fall even to the end of history the world develops the sin of our first parents. As mankind develops, so is there the development of sin in all its manifestation. This is the organic development of sin. Not that sin is an organism. But sin stands in connection with the organism of the human race.
The relationship is this: As the tree of the generations of Adam grows and develops, so sin grows and develops. Because of the total depravity of the whole human race, sin develops organically along with the organic development of the human race. Sin develops in such a way that principally at the cross and ultimately with the Antichrist at the end of the ages there is the full revelation of what was involved with that root sin of Adam.
In this connection there are a few things that we must keep in mind.
In the first place, when we speak about the development of sin we do not mean to suggest that, from one generation to the next, each individual is more wicked than those who were before him. We have seen that all men are conceived and born in sin. All men by nature are dead in trespasses and sins. Death is death!
This corruption is complete and total in all alike. From that point of view, Judas Iscariot’s human nature was no more dead or corrupt than was that of Adam immediately after the fall. Neither will the human nature of Antichrist be essentially worse.
But at the same time it is obvious that not only is there development in the sin of the human race, but there is a wide difference in the actual sins committed by various individuals.
Let’s look at this a little more closely, first from the viewpoint of the historical development and increase of sin, and then from the viewpoint of the individual differences among sinners.
Looking at the historical development of Scripture’s revelation, you will find that development of sin throughout Bible history.
Though there was an ever-increasing revelation of the promise of Christ in the Old Testament, and though the wonder of grace was revealed with increasing clarity throughout that history, yet at the same time the wickedness even in Israel continually developed.
That line of development can be followed all the way through the Old Testament, until, when Christ was born, it was hardly possible to find a people of God on the earth. The church institute, which was Israel according to the flesh, was made up predominately of a self-righteous lot of men who knew not the promise and who would reject the Christ.
When Jesus preached, He pointed to that historical development of wickedness. Sodom and Gomorrah, He reminded the unbelieving and impenitent in Israel, committed such great wickedness that God destroyed them. Yet, Jesus said, Sodom and Gomorrah, together with Tyre and Sidon, shall rise to testify against Capernaum and the cities of Judah in the judgment day. Sodom and Gomorrah, Tyre and Sidon, are ripe for judgment, inexcusable in their wickedness. But they did not reject the Lord of glory and nail Him to the cross.
The wicked nation of Babylon in the days of Daniel did not wallow in the iniquity that characterizes the spiritual Babylon of the New Testament and of our day, which apostate Babylon is to be destroyed at Christ’s return.
Even as this organic development of sin takes place historically in conjunction with the development of the human race, so it is also with regard to the various individuals who live at any given moment throughout history.
All are corrupt, dead in sin and misery.
But not all commit the same sins.
Adam did not and could not commit all the actual sins that Cain committed. Adam could not commit fratricide, the murder of one’s brother. He did not have a brother. Adam could not take another woman in an act of adultery, when Eve was the only woman.
All are corrupt; but not all commit the outward act of murder. Not all commit the outward act of adultery or fornication. Not all become sodomites, homosexuals. Not everyone steals by robbing a bank.
There is a difference among individuals. Not every branch of the corrupt organism of the human race bears all the fruit of the corrupt tree that grows from the root sin of Adam.
But each individual bears that fruit that is in harmony with his or her place in the organism, in harmony with the means and gifts and talents that he or she has, as well as in connection with his or her place in history.
That is the tremendous horror of sin!
Though we don’t always perform every evil, we always perform evil. By virtue of our birth into the human race we have a corrupt nature. We have the inclination to commit every evil, if only we are given the opportunity.
And so the time will come that the measure of iniquity shall be full for the entire human race and all shall be judged righteously. Every son of Adam shall receive according to what he did in the flesh.
The case of man is hopeless – except for one thing. The only thing that changes this is regeneration, spiritual rebirth, the work of the Holy Spirit. And that work takes place, not in the hearts of men in general, but only in the elect race. Meanwhile, in the human race as an organism, the cup of iniquity continues to be filled. But there is another truth that we must not forget in this connection.
God’s Sovereign Control
The development of sin takes place according to God’s sovereign purpose. Sin does not develop outside God’s control.
God is sovereign, also over sin.
For one thing, sin serves God’s purpose with respect to Christ. The fall was no mistake. God’s eternal purpose, though far beyond our human comprehension, was to glorify Himself by saving a people in the deep, dark way of sin and grace.
But God also governs sin in such a way that it develops as the revelation of His righteous judgment and the expression of His infinite wrath over against the sinner.
The development of sin is itself one of the chief ways in which God punishes the sinner. He gives the sinner over to continued sin.
We often forget that such continued sin and development of sin is a clear indication of God’s wrath.
That is the teaching of Romans 1:18ff. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness” (v. 18).
How is it that they hold the truth in unrighteousness? They know the truth, i.e., the truth that God is and that He must be glorified as God. “Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them” (v; 19).
In other words, no man is an atheist. God doesn’t allow it! A man may claim to be. A man may insist that he doesn’t believe in the existence of God. He may say, “There is no God.” There are those who say that. We read about them in the Bible, in Psalm 14 and Psalm 53. “The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God.” He tells himself that. But he knows better. He cannot escape the testimony of God.
God has inscribed on the heart of every sinner this sentence: “I am God. Love Me.” That is what it says in Romans 1:20-21. “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.”
Notice that! God causes the sinner ‘to heap sin upon sin! Sinners are given over!
“Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the incorruptible God into a image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonor their own bodies between themselves” (vv. 22-24).
And so the passage continues. “And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, Without understanding, covenant breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them” (vv. 28-32).
Do you wonder sometimes at the rapid development of sin in the world, in our country?
Do you stand amazed at the rapid advance of apostasy in the church?
Are you dumbfounded over the continued walk in sin of one who claims to be a Christian?
Then understand this: The punishment of God rests heavily upon the sinner. That is the explanation, the only explanation. God gives men over to their sin. I say, we rarely think about sin’s development in those terms. But that is exactly what is happening. God is executing His righteous judgment, His wrath and indignation.
And man is filling the cup of iniquity.
Inescapable is the sinner’s punishment at the hands of the just God. There is only one way out. His name is Jesus, the only name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved. In Him alone there is salvation.
That is why we maintain this biblical truth concerning sin, humbling as it is. That is why we emphasize with the Scriptures that we are wholly incapable of doing any good and inclined to all wickedness.
And that is why, when we preach and teach that truth, you who are the children of God by adoption and who have the Spirit in your hearts confess, “But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved)” (Eph. 2:4, 5).