Select Page

Book 1 - Chapter 8: Of the Violation of the Covenant of Works on the Part of Man - by Herman Witsius

The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man by Herman Witsius

Today, many Christians are turning back to the puritans to, “walk in the old paths,” of God’s word, and to continue to proclaim old truth that glorifies Jesus Christ. There is no new theology. In our electronic age, more and more people are looking to add electronic books (ePubs, mobi and PDF formats) to their library – books from the Reformers and Puritans – in order to become a “digital puritan” themselves. Take a moment to visit Puritan Publications (click the banner below) to find the biggest selection of rare puritan works updated in modern English in both print form and in multiple electronic forms. There are new books published every month. All proceeds go to support A Puritan’s Mind.

Check out these works on Covenant Theology.

Herman Witsius (1636-1708)

Arguably known for the best work on Covenant Theology in print (at least in the top 5).

Herman Witsius (1636-1708) was Professor of Divinity in the Universities of Franeker, Utrecht, and Leyden. A brilliant and devout student, he was fluent in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew by the age of fifteen, when he entered the University of Utrecht. He was ordained at twenty-one and served in several pastorates, filling both the pulpit and the academic chair over the course of his life.

This, his magnum opus, is a reflection of some of the most fruitful and mature thinking on federal theology during the seventeenth century, and still holds a preeminent place in our own day.

Chapter. VIII: Of the Violation of the Covenant of Works on the Part of Man

I. AS the Scripture does not declare how long this covenant, thus ratified and confirmed, continued unbroken, we are satisfied to remain in the dark; and we would have a holy dread of presuming rashly to fix the limits of a time which is really uncertain. It is however evident that man, wickedly presuming to eat the fruit of the forbidden tree, incurred the guilt of violating the covenant. Nor ought that to be deemed a small sin (as the apostle, Rom. 5 calls it, the offence, disobedience, and transgression), because it may seem to have been committed about a thing of no great importance; for the meaner the thing is from which God commanded to abstain, and for which man despised the promise of the covenant, the more heinous it makes his transgression; as may be illustrated by the profaneness of Esau, which was so much the greater as the mess was of so little value for which he sold his birth-right, Heb. 12:16. In that sin, as divines generally observe, there was, as it were, a kind of complication of many crimes. But it is our chief purpose to show that this was the violation of the whole covenant; for not only that tree which, as we proved above, was a sacrament of the covenant, the abuse of which ought to be looked upon as a violence done to the whole; not only the precept concerning that tree, which was the trial of universal obedience; but likewise the covenant in its whole constitution was violated by that transgression: the law of the covenant was trampled upon, when man, as if he had been his own lord and master in all things, did, in defiance of his Lord, lay hold on what was not his property, and throw off the yoke of obedience, that was due to God: the promises of the covenant were set less by than a transitory gust of pleasure, and the empty promises of the seducer; and that dreadful death, which the author of the covenant threatened the transgressor with, not considered and thought of in all its dreadful effects; but he presumed to act in opposition to it. And thus “Adam transgressed the covenant,” Hos. 6:7.

II. Though Eve had the first hand in this crime, yet it is usually in Scripture ascribed to Adam: “By one man sin entered into the world”, according to Paul, Rom. 5:12; whom, verse 14, he declares to be Adam. For Adam was the head of the covenant, with whom, even before the creation of Eve, God seems to have transacted. Adam was the root of all mankind, and even of Eve herself, who was formed out of one of his ribs: neither is it customary to deduce a genealogy from a woman. Nor was the covenant judged to be entirely broken, till Adam also added his own crime to that of his wife’s. Then it was that the Creator, first acting in the character of a judge, summoned to his bar the inconsiderate pair, already condemned by their own conscience. But we are not to think that this inheritance of sin was so derived from our father Adam, as to excuse our mother Eve from that guilt; for as by marriage they were made one flesh, so far they may be considered as one man. Nay, Adam is not considered as the head and root of mankind, but in conjunction with his wife. To this purpose is what Malachi, 2:15, says, that God, seeking a godly seed, made one: one pair—two into one flesh.

III. It was doubtless a wicked spirit who seduced man to this apostasy, and who, tormented with the horrors of his guilty conscience, envied man his happiness in God, and God the pleasure he had in man, seeking a wretched consolation to his misery in having a companion in evil. And the more easily to insinuate himself into man’s favour by his ensnaring discourse, he concealed himself in the serpent, the most subtle of all animals, and at that time not less acceptable to man than the rest of the obsequious creatures. The great Du Moulin, disput. iii. de Angelis, §. xliv. conjectures, that this serpent was of a conspicuous form, with fiery eyes, decked with gold, and marked with shining spots, so as to draw the eyes of Eve to it; and that he had, before that time, more than once insinuated himself, by his soothing sound, into Eve’s favour; in order, that having preconceived a good opinion of him, she might be brought the more readily to yield to him. In fine he was such, that what Moses says of the subtlety of the serpent, must be applied to him only, and not to the whole species. To this conjecture it is also added, that Eve perhaps, such was her simplicity, did not know whether God had bestowed the use of speech on any other animals besides man. Laurentius Karimez, in his Pentecontarch. c. i. quoted by Bochart, Hierozoic. lib. i. c. vi. p. 30, goes a step farther, and feigns that Eve was wont to play with the serpent, and adorn her bosom, neck, and arms with it: and hence, at this day, the ornaments for those parts have the resemblance of serpents, and are called ὄφεις, serpents, by the Greeks.

IV. But all this is apocryphal. We are not to advance such romantic things, without any Scripture authority. Whether this was the first or the only apparition of the serpent with the use of speech, I shall neither boldly affirm, nor obstinately deny. But what we are told, as probable, of some extraordinary serpent so curiously spotted and set off, and now made familiar to Eve, by an intercourse repeated several times, are the pleasing amusements of a curious mind. The subtlety of serpents is every where so well known, that among many nations they are proposed as the distinguishing character and hieroglyphic of prudence. Bochart, in his Hierozoic, lib. i. c. iv. has collected many things relating to this, from several authors. To this purpose is what our Saviour says, Matt. 10:16. “Be ye wise as serpents”. It is also injurious and reproachful to our mother Eve, to represent her so weak, and at so small a remove from the brute creation, as not to be able to distinguish between a brute and a man, and to be ignorant that the use of speech was the peculiar privilege of rational creatures. Such stupid ignorance is inconsistent with the happy state of our first parents, and with the image of God, which shone so illustriously also in Eve. We are rather to believe that the devil assumed this organ the more easily to recommend himself to man as a prudent spirit; especially since this looked like a miracle, or a prodigy at least, that the serpent should speak with human voice. Here was some degree of probability that some spirit lay concealed in this animal, and that, too, extraordinarily sent by God, who should instruct man more fully about the will of God, and whose words this very miracle, as it were, seemed to confirm. For, that serpents have a tongue unadapted to utter articulate sounds, is the observation of Aristotle, De Part. anim. lib. ii. c. 17. See Vossius de Idol. lib. iv. c. 54.

V. As this temptation of the devil is somewhat like to all his following ones, we judge it not improbable, that Satan exerted all his cunning, and transformed himself, as he usually does, into an angel of light, and addressed himself to Eve, as if he had been an extraordinary teacher of some important truth not yet fully understood. And therefore he does not openly contradict the command of God, but first proposes it as a doubt, whether Adam understood well the meaning of the divine prohibition; whether he faithfully related it to Eve; whether she herself, too, did not mistake the sense of it; and whether at least that command, taken literally, was not so improbable, as to render it unnecessary to think of a more mysterious meaning. And thus he teaches to raise reasonings and murmurings, which are the destruction of faith, against the words of God.

VI. Next, he undermines the threatening annexed to the command, “Ye shall not surely die,” says he: God never meant, by death, what you in your simplicity are apt to suspect. Could death be supposed to hang on so pleasant and agreeable a tree? Or, do you imagine God so envious, as to forbid you, who are his familiars and friends, to eat the fruit of this delicious tree, under the dreadful penalty of death? This is inconsistent with his infinite goodness, which you so largely experience, and with the beauty of this specious tree, and its fruit. And therefore there must be another meaning of this expression, which you do not understand. And thus he instilled that heresy, the first, indeed, which was heard of in the world, into the unwary woman, that there is a sin which does not deserve death, or, which is the same thing, a venial sin. The false prophet, the attendant on Antichrist, “who hath horns like a lamb, and speaketh as a dragon,” Rev. 13:11, does, at this very day, maintain this capital heresy in the church of Rome; and nothing is still more usual with Satan than, by hope of impunity, to persuade men to sings.

VII. He adds the promise of a greater happiness: “Your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” He pre-supposes, what in itself was true and harmless, that man had a desire after some more perfect happiness, which he made to consist in his being made like to God, which John affirms to be, as it were, the principal mark of salvation, that “we shall be like God,” 1 John 3:2. He says, further, that this likeness was to be joined with the opening of their eyes, and a greater measure of knowledge. Now, this is not unlike the doctrines of the Scripture, which affirm, that we “shall see God, and that as he is; and shall know him, even as we ourselves are known.” And thus far, indeed, it might appear that Satan spoke not amiss, blending many truths, and those evident to the conscience, with his own lies, the more easily to deceive under the appearance of a true teacher. But herein the fraud lies concealed: 1st, That he teaches them not to wait for God’s appointed time, but unadvisedly and precipitantly to lay hold on the promised felicity. Man cannot indeed too much love and desire perfection, if he does it by preparation and earnest expectation, preparing himself in a course of holy patience, and subjection to the will of God, desiring not to anticipate, even for a moment, the good pleasure of God. 2dly, That he points out a false way, as if the eating of that tree was either a natural, or, more probably, a moral mean, to attain the promised bliss, and as if God had appointed this, as a necessary requisite, without which there was no possibility of coming to a more intimate communion with himself, and a more perfect degree of wisdom; nor, in fine, of obtaining that state in which, knowing equally good and evil, they would be no longer in danger of any degree of deception. And it is most likely he perverted the meaning of the name of the tree. But all these were mere delusions.

VIII. At last this disguised teacher appeals to the knowledge of God himself: “God doth know”. Most interpreters, both Jewish and Christian, ancient and modern, interpret these words as if Satan would charge God with open malignity and envy, forbidding this tree lest he should be obliged to admit man into a partnership in his glory. And indeed, there is no blasphemy so horrid, that Satan is ashamed of. But we are here to consider, whether such a shocking and bare-faced blasphemy would not rather have struck man with horror, who had not yet entertained any bad thoughts of God, than recommend itself by any appearance of probability. For is it credible that a man in his right senses could be persuaded that the acquisition of wisdom and a likeness to God depended on a tree, so that he should obtain both these by eating of it, whether God would or not? And then, that God, whom man must know to be infinitely great and good, was liable to the passion of envy, a plain indication of malignity and weakness; in fine, that there was such a virtue in that tree that, on tasting it, God could not deprive man of life? For all these particulars are to be believed by him, who can imagine that out of envy God had forbidden him the use of that tree. It does not seem consistent with the subtlety of Satan, to judge it advisable to propose to man things so absurd, and so repugnant to common notions, and the innate knowledge which he must have had of God. May it not be more proper to take that expression for a form of an oath? As Paul himself says, 2 Cor. 11:11, “God knoweth.” And thus the perjured impostor appealed to God as witness of what he advanced.

IX. Some think that Adam was not deceived, and did not believe what the serpent had persuaded the woman to; but rather fell out of love to his wife, whom he was unwilling to grieve; and therefore, though he was conscious of a divine command, and not exposed to the wiles of Satan, yet, that he might not abandon her in this condition, he tasted the fruit she offered, probably believing that this instance of his affection for the spouse whom God had given him, if in any measure faulty, might be easily excused. To this they refer the apostle’s words, 1 Tim. 2:14: “For Adam was not deceived; but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.” But this carries us off from the simplicity of the divine oracles. The design of the apostle is plainly to show that the woman ought not to exercise any dominion over her husband, for two reasons, which he urges. 1st. Because Adam was first created as the head; and then Eve, as a help meet for him. 2dly. Because the woman showed she was more easily deceived; for, being deceived first, she was the cause of deceiving her husband; who was likewise deceived, though not first, but by her means. For we commonly find, in Scripture, that some things seem to be absolutely denied, which we are to understand only as denied in a restrictive sense. John 6:27, and Phil. 2:4, are instances of this. Nor can we conceive how Adam, when he believed that what he did was forbidden by God, and that if he did it he should forfeit the promised happiness, nay, incur most certain death (for all this he must know and believe, if he still remained uncorrupted by the wiles of Satan), would have taken part in the crime, only to please his wife. Certainly, if he believed that the transgression of the divine command, the contempt of the promised felicity, and his rashly exposing himself to the danger of eternal death, could be excused only by his affection for his wife, he no less shamefully erred, nor was less deceived, yea, perhaps he was more, than his consort herself. Nor can it be concluded from his answer to God, in which he throws the blame, not on the serpent’s deceit, but on the woman whom God had given him, that the man fell into this sin, not so much by an error in the understanding, as giving way to his affection. For this subverts the whole order of the faculties of the soul; since every error in the affection supposes some error in the understanding. This was doubtless an error, and indeed one of the greatest, to believe that a higher regard was to be paid to his affection for his wife, than to the divine command. It was a considerable error, to think that it was an instance of love to become an accomplice in sin, because it is the duty of love to convince the sinner, and, as far as may be, restore him to the favour of God; which certainly Adam would have done, had he been entirely without error. In whatever light, therefore, we view this point, we are obliged to own that he was deceived. The only apology Adam would make, seems to be, that his beloved consort had, by her insinuations, which she had learned from the serpent, persuaded him also; and that he was not the first in that sin, nor readily suspected any error or deception by her, who was given him as an help by God.

X. It cannot be doubted that Providence was concerned about this fall of our first parents. It is certain that it was foreknown from eternity: none can deny this, but he who sacrilegiously dares to venture to deny the omniscience of God. Nay, as God, by his eternal decree, laid the plan of the whole economy of our salvation, and preconceived succession of the most important things, presupposes the sin of man, it could not therefore happen unforeseen by God. And this is the most evident, because, according to Peter, “he (Christ) was foreordained before the foundation of the world,” and that as the Lamb whose blood was to be shed, 1 Pet. 1:19, 20; which invincible argument Socinus knew not how otherwise to elude, but by this ridiculous assertion, “that after men had sinned, Christ indeed came to abolish their sins; but that he would have come, notwithstanding, though they had never sinned.” But as this idle assertion is unscriptural, nay antiscriptural, so it is not apposite to this place. For the order of Peter’s words obliges us to interpret them concerning Christ’s being foreknown as a lamb to be slain—to shed his blood—to be the price of our redemption. And he likewise speaks, Acts 5:23, of this “determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God,” according to which Christ was delivered into the hands of wicked men. Since, therefore, Christ was foreknown from eternity, as one to be slain for the sins of men, man’s sin was also necessarily foreknown.

XI. And if foreknown, it was also predetermined: thus Peter, in the place just quoted, joins together the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God. Nor can God’s prescience of future things be conceived, but in connexion with his decree concerning them.

XII. From all this may be inferred, by a plain consequence, that man could not but fall on account of the infallibility of the divine prescience, and of that necessity, which they call a necessity of consequence. For it is inconsistent with the divine perfection, that any decree of God should be rendered void, or that the event should not be answerable to it. It is the prerogative of Jehovah to say, “My counsel shall stand,” Is. 46:10. His “counsels of old are faithfulness and truth,” Is. 25:1. God himself has ratified the stability of his purposes by an oath, the more certainly to declare “the immutability of his counsel,” Heb. 6:17. “The Lord of hosts hath sworn, saying, Surely as I have thought, so shall it come to pass; and as I have purposed, so shall it stand,” Is. 14:24.

XIII. The infallibility of the event, as to man’s sin, may be proved by another argument, if we only attend to that subordination by which all creatures depend on God, in their operations. For it is not possible that God should, by his almighty concurrence, influence any creature to act, and yet that creature suspend its acting. And if God should not influence to the moral goodness of that natural action, the creature could not, without that influence, perform that action morally good. This is evident from the nature of God and the creature: as he cannot ineffectually influence his creatures to act, so they cannot but act when under his influence. These things being supposed, as they are evident to any person of attention, it is impossible that man can abstain from reasoning, willing, and eating, where God influences to these acts by his almighty concurrence. Nor is it any more possible that man can reason, will, and eat in a holy manner, if God, by his almighty concurrence, does not influence the holiness of it. Supposing, therefore, that God had afforded his influence to the natural act of reasoning, willing, eating, as he actually did, but not the moral goodness of those acts, as he did not; it could not otherwise be, but that man should act at that time, and perform his action wrong. All this holds true, not only of this first sin of man, but of all other sins. I see not, therefore, why we may not boldly maintain these things, as they are evidently true; and more especially, as they tend to the glory of God, and to demonstrate his supereminence, and the absolute dependance of the creatures upon him, as much in their operations, as in their existence. Should those of the contrary Pelagian sentiments pervert these truths, it will be at their peril. Nor ought we so much to regard that, as to be induced to conceal the truth on their account.

XIV. However, it will not be amiss to insist a little longer on this subject; that all the apparent harshness of this doctrine may be entirely removed by an evident demonstration of the truth; which we think we shall be able to effect, by beginning with the more evident truths, flowing from each other in one continued chain of arguments, in such a manner, as to gain the assent even of the most obstinate.

XV. And first, I think, it will be readily granted, that there is but one first cause; that all other causes so depend upon that, both in existing and acting, as without it to be able neither to exist nor to act. Paul inculcated this upon the Athenians, Acts 17:28: “In him we live, and move, and have our being.” Nor, indeed, can the most powerful monarch in the world, such as the Assyrian was in the time of Isaiah, any more move without God, than the axe without him that heweth therewith, or “the saw without him that shaketh it,” Is. 10:15.

XVI. Reason, in this, concurs with Scripture. For if there were any cause besides God which could act independently of him, it would follow, there were more first principles than one; as Thomas Aquinas reasons well in his Secund. sentent. distinct. 37, quæst. 2. art. 2.; whose reasoning, as it is both solid, and very much to the purpose, we shall not scruple to give in his own words. “It is,” says he, “essential to the first principle, that it can act without the assistance and influence of a prior agent; so that if the human will could produce any action of which God was not author, the human will would have the nature of a first principle.”

XVII. Though they endeavour to solve this, by saying that, notwithstanding the will be of itself capable of producing an action without the influence of a prior agent, yet it has not its being from itself, but from another; whereas the nature of a first principle is to be self-existent. But it seems inconsistent to say that what has not its being of itself can yet act of itself; for what is not of itself cannot continue of itself. For all the power of acting arises from the essence, and the operation from the power; consequently, what has its essence from another, must also have its power and operation from that other. Moreover, though this reply denies that it is simply the first, yet we cannot but see that it is the first agent, if its acting cannot be referred to some prior agent as the cause. Thus far Thomas Aquinas.

XVIII. Nor does God only concur with the actions of second causes when they act, but also influences the causes themselves to act; because the beginning of actions depends, if not more, at least not less, on God, than their progress. This opinion is not unhappily expressed in the Roman Catechism, published by the decree of the council of Trent, at the command of Pope Pius V. Part I. on the first article of the Creed, No 22, to this purpose: “But God not only by his providence preserves and governs all things that exist; but he likewise, by a secret energy, so influences those that move and act to motion and action, that, though he hinders not the efficiency of second causes, yet he prevents or goes before it; seeing his most secret power extends to each in particular: and, as the wise man* testifies, reaches powerfully from one end to the other, and disposes all things sweetly. Wherefore it was said by the apostle, when declaring to the Athenians the God whom they ignorantly worshipped, He is not far from every one of us; for in him we live, and move, and have our being.”

XIX. Moreover, as a second cause cannot act unless acted upon, and previously moved to act by the preventing and predetermining influence of the first cause; so, in like manner, that influence of the first cause is so efficacious, as that supposing it, the second cause cannot but act: for it is unworthy of God to imagine any concurrence of his to be so indifferent, as at last only to be determined by the co-operation of second causes; “as if the rod should shake him who lifts it up, or as if the staff should lift up what is not wood,” Is. 10:15;—for so the words properly run; and the meaning is, that it is highly absurd to ascribe to an instrument of wood the raising and managing of what is of a more excellent nature, namely spirit. By this allegory is intimated the absurdity of that opinion which makes God to be determined in his actions by the creature.

XX. Didacus Alvarez, de Auxiliis Divinæ Gratiæ, lib. iii. disput. 21, p. 163, makes use of the following argument against this, namely, the manner of concurring by a will of itself indifferent to produce this or the other effect, or its opposite, is very imperfect; because, in its efficacy, it depends on the concurrence of a second cause; and every dependance imports, in the thing which depends, some imperfection and inferiosity in respect of him on whom it depends: therefore such a manner of concurrence cannot be ascribed to God, or agree with his will, which is an infinite and most perfect cause.

XXI. And then this insolvable difficulty likewise remains: If the second cause determines the concurrence of God, in itself indifferent in that act of determination, it will be independent of God, and so become the first cause. And if in one action it can act independently of God, why not in a second? If in the beginning of the action, why not also in the progress? Since the transition from non acting to acting, is greater than the continuing an action once begun.

XXII. As these things are universally true, they may be applied to those free actions of rational creatures in which there is a moral evil inherent; namely, that creatures may be determined to those actions by the efficacious influence of God, so far as they are actions, according to their physical entity. Elegantly to this purpose Thomas Aquinas, in the place just quoted. Since the act of sin is a kind of being,—not only as negations and privations are said to be beings, but also as things which in general exist are beings, because even these actions in general are ranked in that order; and if the actions of sin [as actions] are not from God,—it would follow that there would be some being which had not its essence from God; and thus God would not be the universal cause of all beings: which is contrary to the perfection of the first being.

XXIII. Neither does God only excite and predetermine the will of men to vicious actions, so far as they are actions; but he likewise so excites it, that it is not possible but, thus acted upon, it shall act. For if, upon supposition of that divine influence, it was possible for the created will not to act, these two absurdities would follow: 1st, That the human will could baffle the providence of God, and either give to or take from the divine influence and its efficacy. 2dly, That there could be some act in the creature of such weight as to resist the divine influence, and be independent of God. Nor do I imagine they will say that God concurs to the production of that action whereby his influence is resisted. But we have already refuted any concurrence as in itself indifferent, to be determined by the free will of the creatures.

XXIV. Further, the free will of man excited to actions cannot, according to its physical essence, give them a moral and spiritual goodness, without the divine providence influencing and concurring to that goodness. This is evident from what has been said. For, as moral goodness is a superior and more perfect degree of entity than a physical entity alone, and man in the physical entity of his actions depends on God; so it is necessary he should much more depend on God in producing the moral goodness of his actions, so that the glory thereof may be rendered to God, as the first cause.

XXV. If all these truths, thus demonstrated, be joined and linked together, they will produce that conclusion which we laid down sect. xiii. For if all creatures depend on God in acting; if he not only concurs with them when they act, but excites them to act; if that excitation be so powerful as that, upon supposing it, the effect cannot but follow; if God with that same efficacy influences vicious actions, so far as they are physical; if the creature cannot give its actions their due moral goodness without God;—it infallibly follows, that Adam, God himself moving him to understand, will, and eat, could not but understand, will, and eat; and God not giving goodness to those actions, man could not understand and will in a right manner. Which was to be proved.

XXVI. But it does not follow that man was obliged to what was simply impossible. For it is only a consequential and eventual infallibility and necessity which we have established. God bestowed sufficient powers on man, even such as were proper for a creature, by which he could have overcome the temptation. But then he could not proceed to action without presupposing the divine concurrence. Who can deny, that man has a locomotive faculty, so sufficient in its kind that he requires no more? For will any affirm, without discovering his ignorance of the supremacy of God and the subordination of man, that man, by this locomotive faculty, can actually move independently of God, as the first cause? In like manner we affirm, that though God granted him such sufficient abilities to fulfil all righteousness, that he had no need of any further habitual grace, as it is called; yet all this ability was given him in such are manner, that he could act only dependently of the Creator and his influence, as we hinted, chap. ii. sect. xiii.

XXVII. Much less should it be said that man, by the above-mentioned acts of Divine Providence, was forced to sin: for he sinned with judgment and will; to which faculties, liberty, as it is opposed to compulsion, is so proper, nay essential, that neither judgment nor will can exist without it. And when we affirm that God foreordained and infallibly foreknew that man should sin freely, the sinner could not but sin freely; unless we would have the event not answer to the preordination and prescience of God. And it is so far from the decree of God, in the lest to diminish the liberty of man in his acting, that, on the contrary, this liberty has not a more solid foundation than that infallible decree of God.

XXVIII. To make God the author of sin is such dreadful blasphemy, that the thought cannot without horror be entertained by any Christian. God, indeed, created man mutably good, infallibly foresaw his sin, foreordained the permission of that sin, really gave man sufficient powers to avoid it, but which could not act without his influence: and though he influenced his faculties to natural or physical actions, without influencing the moral goodness of those actions—all which appear from the event; yet God neither is, nor in any respect can be, the author of sin. And though it be difficult, nay impossible, for us to reconcile these truths with each other; yet we ought not to deny what is manifest, on account of that which is hard to be understood. We will religiously profess both truths, because they are truths, and worthy of God: nor can the one overturn the other; though in this our state of blindness and ignorance of God, we cannot thoroughly see the amicable harmony between them. This is not the alone nor single difficulty, whose solution the sober divine will ever reserve for the world to come.

XXIX. This is certain, that by this permission of sin, God had an opportunity of displaying his manifold perfections. There is a fine passage to this purpose in Clemens, Strom. lib. i.: “It is the greatest work of Divine Providence not to suffer the evil, arising from a voluntary apostasy, to remain unuseful, or in every respect to become noxious. For it is peculiar to divine wisdom and power, not only to do good (that being, so to speak, as much the nature of God, as it is the nature of fire to warm, or of light to shine), but much more to make the evil devised by others answer a good and valuable end, and manage those things which appear to be evil, to the greatest advantage.”

XXX. It remains now, lastly, to consider how, as Adam in this covenant was the head of mankind, upon his fall all his posterity may be deemed to have fallen with him, and broken the covenant of God. The apostle expressly asserts this, Rom. 5:12: “By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned,” ἐφʼ ὧ παντες ἥμαρτον.”

XXXI. To illustrate the apostle’s meaning, we must observe these things: 1st, It is very clear to any not under the power of prejudice, that, when the apostle affirms that all have sinned, he speaks of an act of sinning, or of an actual sin; the very phrase, to sin, denoting an action. It is one thing to sin, another to be sinful, if I may so speak. 2dly, When he affirms all to have sinned, he under that universality likewise includes those who have no actual, proper, and personal sin, and who, as he himself says, “have not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression,” verse 14. Consequently, these are also guilty of some actual sin, as appears from their death; but that, not being their own proper and personal sin, must be the sin of Adam, imputed to them by the just judgment of God. 3rdly, By these words, ἐφʼ ὧ πάντες ἥμαρτον, for that all have sinned, he gives the reason why he had asserted, that by the sin of one man death passed upon all. This, says he, ought not to astonish us, for all have sinned. If we must understand this of some personal sin of each, either actual or habitual, the reasoning would not have been just, and worthy of the apostle, but mere trifling; for his argument would be this: that by the one sin of one all were become guilty of death, because each in particular had, besides that one and first sin, his own personal sin; which is inconsequential. 4thly, The scope of the apostle is to illustrate the doctrine of justification he had before treated of. The substance of which consisted in this, that Christ, in virtue of the covenant of grace, accomplished all righteousness for his chosen covenant people, so that the obedience of Christ is placed to their charge, and they, on account thereof, are no less absolved from the guilt and dominion of sin, than if they themselves had done and suffered, in their own person, what Christ did and suffered for them. He declares that in this respect Adam was the type of Christ, namely, as answering to him. It is therefore necessary that the sin of Adam, in virtue of the covenant of works, be so laid to the charge of his posterity, who were comprised with him in the same covenant, that, on account of the demerit of his sin, they are born destitute of original righteousness, and obnoxious to every kind of death, as much as if they themselves, in their own persons, had done what Adam did. Unless we suppose this to be Paul’s doctrine, his words are nothing but mere empty sound.

XXXII. The last words of this verse, ἐφ ̓ ὧ πάντες ἥμαρτον, are differently explained by divines, because the Greek phraseology admits of various significations: The principal explanations are three: 1st, Some render them, in so far, or, because all have sinned. For it is allowed that ἐφʼ ὧ frequently admits this sense; and thus it seems to be taken, 2 Cor. 5:4: ἐφʼ ὧ οὐ θέλομεν ἐκδύσαθαι, not for that we would be unclothed; as if written, as Frobenius prints it, ἐπειδη, though Beza here greatly differs. 2dly, Others observe, it may be explained, with whom, i.e., who sinning, all have sinned. For ἐπὶ in a similar construction denotes a time in which something was done. Thus we say in Greek, ἐπ ̓ ἐμοὶ μειρακίω τοῦτο γέγονε, when I was a boy, this happened; and ἐπὶ κυνὶ, in the dog-days; and the apostle, Heb. 9:15, ἐπὶ τῆ πρώτη διαθήκη, under the first testament. And then the meaning would be, that upon Adam’s sinning, all are judged to have sinned. 3dly, Augustine and most of the orthodox have explained it, in whom. Which Erasmus in vain opposes, saying, that ἐπὶ, when signifying upon or in, is joined to the genitive case; as, ἐπʼ ὂικου και ἐπὶ της χώρας also when denoting time; as, ἐπὶ καίσαρος Ὀκταβίου. In all this he is strangely mistaken. For, not to say anything now of time, it is certain that ἐπὶ, when joined to the dative, denotes in; as Matt. 14:8, ἐπὶ πίνακι, in a charger; and in this very context of Paul, verse 14, ἐπὶ τὦ ὁμοιωματι, in the similitude. And, which is more, ἐφʼ ὧ cannot sometimes be otherwise explained than by in which [or in whom]: as Matt. 2:4, ἐφʼ ὧ ὁ παραλυτικος κατεκείτο, wherein the sick of the palsy lay; and Luke 5:25, ἀρας ἐφʼ ὧ κατεμείτο, took up that whereon be lay. Nor is it taken in this sense in the sacred writings only; but he might learn from Budæus, Commentar. ling. Græc. p. 506, that Aristotle used this phraseology in the same sense: Ἐφʼ ὧ μεν ἡ θήλεια, ἐπὶ θατέρω δὲ ὁ ἂῤῥην επωάζει· in the one the female, in the other the male, breeds. However, though we reckon none of these explanations to be impertinent, as they are all nearly to the same purpose; yet we give the preference to the last, because most emphatical, and very applicable to the apostle’s scope. It is a bad way of interpreting Scripture to represent it as speaking in the feeblest sense; for the words are to be taken in their full import, where there is nothing in the context to hinder it.

XXXIII. Grotius really prevaricates, when he thus comments on the passage before us. “It is a common metonymy in the Hebrew, to use the word sin instead of punishment, and to sin instead of to undergo punishment; whence, extending this figure, they are said, by a metalepsis, חטא to sin, who suffer any evil, even though they are innocent: as Gen. 31:36, and Job 6:24; where חטא is rendered by δυσπραγεῖν, to be unhappy. Ἐφʼ ὧ here denotes through whom, as ἐπὶ with the dative is taken, Luke 5:5, Acts, 3:36, 1 Cor. 8:11, Heb. 9:17. Chrysostom on this place says, ‘On his fall, they who did not eat of the tree are from him all become mortal.’ ”

XXXIV. This illustrious person seems to have wrote without attention, as the whole is very impertinent. 1st, Though we allow that sin does sometimes metonymically denote the punishment of sin, yet we deny it to be usual in Scripture, that he who undergoes punishment, even while innocent, may be said to sin. Grotius says it is frequent, though he neither does nor can prove it by any one example; which is certainly bold and rash. Crellius, confuting his book on the satisfaction of Christ, brings in the saying of Bathsheba to David, 1 Kings 1:21, “I and my son Solomon shall be counted offenders;” that is, says he, we shall be treated as offenders, or, be ruined. But a sinner, or even sin, and to sin, are different things. The former is said of Christ, 2 Cor. 5:21; but not the latter, on any account. Moreover, to be a sinner does not signify, in the passage alleged, to undergo punishment, without any regard to a fault or demerit, but to be guilty of aiming at the kingdom, and of high treason, and as such to be punished. The testimonies advanced by Grotius are so foreign, that they seem not to have been examined by that great man. For neither in the Hebrew do we find חטא, to sin, nor in the Greek version, δυσπραγεῖν; nor do the circumstances admit that what is there said of sin, or mistake, can be explained of punishment. It is necessary, therefore, to suppose that either Grotius had something else in his view, or that here is a typographical error. 2ndly, Though we should grant, which yet we do not in the least, that to sin sometimes denotes to undergo punishment, yet it cannot signify this here; because the apostle in this place immediately distinguishes between death as the punishment, and sin as the meritorious cause, “and death by sin.” And by this interpretation of Grotius, the apostle’s discourse, which we have already shown is solid, would be an insipid tautology. For where is the sense to say, “So death passed upon all, through whom all die?” 3dly, Grotius discovers but little judgment in his attempt to prove that ἐφ ̓ ὧ signifies through whom: certainly Luke 5:5, ἐπὶ τῶ ῥηματί σου does not signify through thy word, but at thy word, or, as Beza translates, at thy command. And, Heb. 9:17, ἐπὶ νεκροῖς does not signify through the dead, but when dead, and rather denotes a circumstance of time. Acts 3:16 is alleged with a little more judgment, and 1 Cor. 8:11 not improperly. But it might be insisted, that ἐπʼ ἐμοί ἐστὶ signifies, it is owing to me, that the meaning should be, to whom it was owing that all sinned. Which interpretation is not altogether to be rejected. Thus the Scholiast, ἐφʼ ὧ Ἀδὰμ, διʼ ὁν. And if there was nothing else couched under this, I would easily grant Grotius this explanation of that phraseology. 4thly, It cannot be explained, consistently with divine justice, how without a crime death should have passed upon Adam’s posterity. Prosper reasoned solidly and elegantly against Collator, c. 20: “Unless, perhaps, it can be said that the punishment, and not the guilt, passed on the posterity of Adam; but to say this is in every respect false. For it is too impious to judge so of the justice of God; as if he would, contrary to his own law, condemn the innocent with the guilty. The guilt therefore is evident, where the punishment is so; and a partaking in punishment shows a partaking in guilt; that human misery is not the appointment of the Creator, but the retribution of the judge.” If, therefore, through Adam all are obnoxious to punishment, all too must have sinned in Adam. 5thly, Chrysostom also is here improperly brought in, as if from Adam he derived only the punishment of death, without partaking in the guilt. For the homily from which the words are quoted begins thus: “When the Jew shall say, How is the world saved by the obedience of one, namely, Christ? You may reply, How was the world condemned by one disobedient Adam?” Where it is to be observed, 1st, That he supposes the miseries of mankind to proceed from God, as a judge, who cannot justly condemn, but for sin. 2ndly, That he compares the condemnation of the world by Adam’s disobedience with its salvation by Christ’s obedience. But this last is imputed to believers, and deemed to be theirs; and therefore Adam’s sin is in like manner imputed to all. As also Gregory of Nazianzen, quoted by Vossius, Hist. Paleg. lib. ii. P. 2. p. 163, said, that Adam’s guilt was his. “Alas! my weakness!” says he, “for I derive my weakness from the first parent.”

XXXV. But we only understand this of Adam’s first sin. We cannot agree with those who absurdly tell us that Adam’s other sins were also imputed to us; for Paul, when treating on this subject, Rom. 5, every where mentions transgression in the singular number; nay expressly, verse 18, one transgression, by which guilt passed upon all. And the reason is manifest; for Adam ceased to be a federal head when the covenant was once broken, and whatever sin he was afterwards guilty of was his own personal sin, and not chargeable on his posterity, unless in so far as God is sometimes pleased to visit the sins of the fathers on the children: in which Adam has now nothing peculiar above other men. So much for the violation of the covenant by man.

Offsite Banner Ad:

Help Support APM

Search the Site

Reformed Theology at A Puritan's Mind