Main Lines of Reformed Doctrine

Main Lines of Reformed Doctrine is a series written by Rev. John H. Piersma, pastor of the Bethany Christian Reformed Church of South Holland, Illinois. This series is for church societies, study groups, and all others interested. Two lessons appear each month.


Man in God’s World

(Scripture Passages: Genesis 1:26–31; 2:4–15; 5:1; Psalm 104:27–30)

We attempt to cover four topics under this heading: the origin, the nature, the destiny and the perpetuation of man’s existence (Providence) in God’s created world.

The Origin of Man

From the Scripture readings you noticed that the Bible includes a double account of man’s creation. In the first (Gen. 1) man is presented as the crown of creation. In the second (Gen. 2) he is seen as the starting point of the world’s history.

Man’s rclationship to the lower creatures is obvious: he is created out of the dust of the earth. On the other hand, man is principally distinct from all lower creatures. This follows from such data as (1) his creation after a deliberate consultation on God’s part (Gcn. 1:26). (2) the fact that God deliberately makes man to live by breathing into his nostrils the breath of life (Gen. 2:7), and (3) man‘s creation in God’s image.

We therefore reject these three basic tenets of Darwinism or evolutionism: (1) all of life is a struggle for existence; (2) in this struggle only the fittest survive, that is, those best able to adapt themselves to their environment; (3) those characteristics acquired in this struggle are inherited by suceeding generations, who, in turn, acquire other quantities, etc.

Man was given Paradise as his dwelling place. To determine the location of Paradise we must examine the following Scriptural data: (1) it lay “eastward,” an expression usually taken to point to Mesopotamia; (2) it was in Eden, a name regarded as coming from a Babylonian word meaning plain or steppe, which is taken to refer to the territory between the Euphrates and the Tigris rivers; (3) it was watered by a river which divided there into four streams, Pishon, Gihon, Hiddekel, Euphrates. Pishon and Gihon are unknown, Hiddekel and Euphrates are usually identified with the present Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Man’s life in Paradise was what Paul calls natural or psychological (I Cor. 15:44-49). This differs from the spiritual or pneumatical life which begins when Christ returns (“it is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body,” I Cor. 15:44a). We now have psychical life through Adam, the life which is adapted to and which understands this world. It is, of course, corrupted by sin. Having this life we can approach with our minds the meaning and character of life in Paradise. This requires that we accept the Genesis account as a literalhistorical account. The kind of life which we anticipate in “the new heavens and the new earth” is described in Rev. 21, 22 in language which uses figures borrowed from our present, psychical or natural life.

Genesis 2:9 speaks of “the tree of life.” Eating of its fruit had spiritual and sacramental significance for Adam and Eve. Like our Lord’s Supper, it was for the strengthening of Adam’s faith, the faith that God would give him everlasting life in the way of true obedience.

Man‘s Nature

God created man in His image and after His likeness (Gen. 1:26). We find the same words in Genesis 5:3, although the order is reversed (“And Adam . . . begat a son in his own likeness, after his image; and called his name Seth”). From this text we see that the double expression means that man was created to be a representative image of God. “Like father, like son” was really applicable to Adam as well as to his son, although in distinguishable senses. This image of God determines the nature and defines the character of man as human. It implies that man is disposed toward and equipped for fellowship with God by faith. Especially his dominion over all of creation was an endowment granted by virtue of that image. But even man’s bodily stance and existence is governed by the image of God.

Since God’s image is the determinative factor in his very humanity we conclude that it cannot be totally or essentially lost. Fallen man is still God’s image bearer (“Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man,” Gen. 9:6, and “therewith curse we men, who are made after the likeness of God,” James 3:9). And yet the most prominent features of that image have been lost and what remains is by comparison as the glowing embers of a dying lire. For that reason we distinguish between the image of God in the broader sense, which is common to all men, and narrower sense, that which was lost in the Fall and is restored by the believer’s new birth or regeneration. The classic passages here arc Ephesians 4:24, “and put on the new man, that after God hath been created in righteousness and holiness of truth,” and Colossians 3:10, “and have put on the new man, that is being renewed unto knowledge after the image of him that created him.” These passages plainly teach that the true knowledge of God, righteousness and holiness are restored to us through regeneration, and that these belong to the image of God in the more precise, narrower sense.

We reject the following views of the image of God:

a. The momlistic view! the image of God has no positive significance, but consists only in the moral freedom of man in his alleged condition of naive innocence before the existence of good and evil. This would mcan that the Fnll was not a “willful disobedience.” Ephesians 4:24 and Colossians 3:10 definitely indicate the positive content of the image of God, upon the basis of which the Catechism says that God created man “good, and after His own image” (Q. 6). This means that thereby we could and shall rightly know, heartily love and eternally praise God. These are positive considerations!

b. The Roman Catholic view: God first created a naturally good man. Natural men have natural desires, which are a potential source of sin but are not yet sinful. Natural desires call scarcely be controlled by natural man, and so God gave him the supernatural gift of the divine image. This was to be “a golden bridle” for the restraining and directing of natural desire. By his fall man lost God’s image. What remained was a good but deprived human nature, unable to control natural desires and incapable of spiritual good. (Some Catholic theologians teach that if man will use the abilities he has by nature he cannot achieve salvation but can avoid damnation.) By the sacraments of the church, especially the Mass, man regains God’s image, enabling him to do supernaturally good works and earn a heavenly salvation. According to this view the image of God is a supernatural addition to man’s nature. Grace is a supplement to nature.

c. The Lutheran vicw; Luther limits the image of God to that which we ascribe to its narrower sense (the true knowledge of God, righteousness and holiness). For man by nature after the Fall Luther has little good to say in any sense. Fallen man is almost regarded as “a stock and a block.” In His Word, however, God speaks to us as responsible creatures, and by that Word He makes us aware of our responsibility to Him.


The Destiny of Man

The Bible teaches that from tIle beginning God had a goal or destiny for His covenant friend. Paradise was glorious, but its condition was not the highest God envisioned for man. His natural or psychical life had to become spiritual or pneumatical. And there was the real possibility of a fall into sin by which fellowship with God would be forfeited. The highest condition for men is one in which he cannot sin.

How do we account for the fact that man who was created good could sin? The mysteries here are insurmountable. We must not forget that man was privileged to he created in God’s image and to be blessed with God’s covenant. This involved great responsibility, namely, to do the good from a free and willing choice. God wanted a sincere, voluntary response to His covenant love.

From the beginning God placed man in a covenant. It is true that Genesis 2 and 3 do not use the word covenont, but all the features of a covenant agreement are obviously present. Above all, the name “Jehovah God” is used repeatedly (Gen. 2:4; 5; 7; etc.), a name that refers to the Lord as a Covenant God.

A covenant is an agreement between two parties in which mutual rights and obligations are established. As creator God owned all the rights nnd man had only obligations. The relationship was completely one-sided, as in any testamentary kind of situation. By the voluntary decision to give His promises God took upon Himself certain obligations and granted to man certain rights. In that way the relationship between God and man became two-sided or covenantal.

The Bible speaks glowingly of the kind of intimacy which the parties in this covenant enjoy. Psalm 25:14 says, “The friendship of Jehovah is with them that fear him; and he will show them his covenant.” All religion, all intercourse with God is from its very inception grounded in the covenant. We must not forget that our two-sided covenant proceeded one-sidedly from God. The covenant is established by a one-sided act of His sovereign grace.

In Reformed theology this covenant is called the Covenant of Works. This name arouses the impression that Adam by good works could earn everlasting life. Actually there was never the slightest of such a duty or possibility for Adam; God freely gave him His Full and perfect favor. The one thing that God asked of Adam was that he would choose for that divine favor, that he by his obedience would demonstrate that he preferred above all to remain in that favor. (With Christ there is talk of earning with God, Isaiah 53:11, “he shall see the fruit of the travail of his soul and he satisfied,” but He for our sakes took a position outside of God’s favor. And He could earn something because He was not only man but also God.)

It is more accurate to speak of the Covenant of God’s Favor when we speak of the covenant before the Fall. After the Fall Scripture reveals the Covenant of Grace (grace is undeserved favor). In the first covenant Adams calling as head of the human race was to practice that obedience which would lead to everlasting life, to the condition in which it was not possible to sin.

It is very important to understand that the first covenant was established with Adam as the federal head of the entire human race. Humanity is an organism (an organism is a living entity which develops out of a single germ or seed; its unique characteristic is that the whole precedes the parts). It is not entirely correct to say that God built the covenant fellowship upon the basis of the blood tie. More likely it is quite the other way around; God desired the covenant fellowship and therefore and thereunto He created the blood relationship. Adam is thus not only our common father, he is above all our covenant head, in whom all of us arc comprehended. That indicates the official position and Singular importance of Adam.

Back of the covenant which God made with Adam as head of humanity lies His divine decree, according to which He willed to bestow His love to men through His Son as the Logos or Word of John 1:1 (“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”). In the Logos God has from eternity expressed what He willed to be for man. John 1:4 says therefore that “in him [the Logos] was life; and the life was the light of men.” By the Logos God gave His fellowship to Adam in the covenant. Only in this way could Adam be tIle head of all men and also the head of the world in such a relationship that the whole world stood or fell with and in him.

Man’s Perpetuation (God’s Providence)

The existence of the world is due only to Goo’s providence. This is defined in the Catechism as “the almighty and everywhere present power of God, whereby, as it were by His hand, He still upholds heaven, earth, and all creatures, and so governs them that all things come not by chance but by His fatherly hand” (Q. 27).

The word providence does not appear in Scripture. Scripture uses words like creating, renewing, ruling (Ps. 104:30, “when thou sendest forth thy Spirit, they were created; and thou renewest the face of the ground.” See also Hebrews 1:3). The word providence has been borrowed from the ancient Greeks. The doctrine of providence is not vulnerable to any biblicistic attack, however, since the biblical thoughts marshaled under this term are deeper and different than, say, the Greek idea of providence (the gods see in advance what kind of needs men will have and try to make provision for them).

Providence is related to creation. The creator is confes.~ed as the One who makes the world to remain in existence. This has led some to think of providence as a kind of continuous creation. On the other hand, providence is definitely distinct from creation. The world which He upholds has by virtue of creation an existence distinguishable and separate from God’s own existence and He makes use in providence of the powers present in creation. This is expressed by the Scriptures when we read that God “rested” (Gen. 2:1–3). Providence call be confessed only if we recognize both the transcendence (God‘s priority and superiority over all things) and the immanence (Gods involvement and inherence in an things) of God, and if we recognize the covenant in which God has allied Himself with man and, in the first man as its head, with the whole world.

We now look at this further by considering providence from the usual trip!e point-ofview: preservation, cooperation and government.

By preservation we mean to say that God upholds all creatures so that they continue to exist according to their own future. If God’s providential preservation were to cease the world would be no more. Living creatures are upheld by God mediately. That is why we are always directed toward faith fill and intelligent use of the proper means. We may never try to force God to help us out of some predicament rising from a rejection of the use of proper means. We shall not tempt the Lord our God!

By cooperation in providence we mean that God as the first cause works with and through the existing powers and energies as secondary causes. (This is really a wrong statement of the relationship between God and the creature: God is not a co-worker with His creatures but creatures are co-workers with Him, and by faith we must be God’s self-conscious, willing co-workers.) We ought to sec that there are at this point certain objectionable ideas in the world: Pantheism, for example, a doctrine that equates God with the forces and laws of the universe, sees only the first cause. Deism, a movement very popular in the earlier states of American history, sees only the secondary causes as it denies the involvement or possible concern of the Creator with the laws of the universe. All kinds of “pelagianism (man has a perfect and independent freedom to do right or wrong) see the first and secondary causes as two separate and parallel factors.

We believe that God definitely activates all things through the laws and forces of nature. This divine working is regular and consistent, which is the reason why we can speak of  “natural laws.” Natural laws are not instances of some inherent and independent causal power. They are nothing more than Our discovery of the regularity of God’s working, a course of working to which He has subjected creation.

What, then, are wonders or miracles? They arc not instances in which God sets aside certain natural forces or violently interrupts or frustrates some compulsory natural law even though they arc deviations from the regular order. In God’s plan the miracle is not something alien or abnormal. They are rather an indispensable, integral feature of His program. In the miracles found in Scripture a certain divine power appears in such a way as to enlighten and point up the one great wonder by which God Himself came into our world (the incarnation). These revelational wonders were necessary before Christ for the revelation and introduction of salvation to this world. Today, after Christ, wonders are necessary only for the application of that great salvation to us, principally the re-birth or regeneration of our hearts.

The third feature of our doctrine of providence is His government over all things. Dy government we mean that God directs all things according to His sovereignly established purpose, namely, His own honor. It is in this connection that we must confess that God’s hand is in all things including sin. Reformed theology often prefers to use the word permit in connection with sin, and that for obvious reasons. To do this, however well-intentioned, is hardly satisfactory since this term presumes that the relationship between God and man is only of a negative significance. Confession of faith ought to be positive, however, and we must positively declare that we believe that God’s hand is in all things, sin included. And say as well, of course, that He is not therefore the author of sin.

An indication as to how we might find a satisfactory solution to the problems here encountered can be found in Isaiah 10:5–7, which reads:

Ho Assyrian, the rod of mine anger, the staff in whose hand is mine indignation! I will send him against a profane nation, and against the people of my wrath will  I give him a charge, to take the spoil, and to take thprey, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets. Howbeit he meaneth not so, neither doth his  heart think so; but it is in his heart to destroy, and to cut off nations not a few.

Here we note that in the brutal attack of an Assyrian king upon Israel the will of Cod is at work for good by the chastisement of His people. Meanwhile the will of the As.syrian king is at work for evil as he seeks to overwhelm and plunder Israel.

Sometimes a distinction is made between the general providence of God over nil creatures and a t1articular or special providence of God with respect to His children. In the use of this distinction we must remember that the oneness of God with His children in Christ is central for all of God’s providential activity. and that this consideration over-arches all others. He governs the world so that it moves to that final crisis in which judgment shall take place according to acceptance or rejection of Christ. We may say, therefore, that both preservation and cooperation serve God’s providential government.

To help with discussion:

1. Do you think that the acceptance of evolutionism by people today has any effect on the way people think of and treat others? What arc tIle implications for neighhorliness and brotherly love in the Christian view of man’s origin? 2. What is meant by the “common mandate” (cf. Gen. 1:28)? Does this still hold for us today? What docs it mean ecologically (the condition of our environment)? 3. Do you think that the “spiritual life” of the new heavens and the new earth will be a body-less existence? Does this term refer to the essence of man‘s physical existence or to its spiritual character as a secure enjoyment of God’s goodness forever? 4. Did God test man in the Garden in order to tease or torment him when He made the different trees? If the use of the tree of life had sacramental significance. would its effect have been to strengthen Adam against the temptation to sin? 5. Can we say that the fallen sinner bears the image of Satan? Why not? Is it possible to see reflections of the glory of the image of God in man in the accomplishments of modem science, art, technology, literature, etc.? In nil of these things always? 6. Can we see the pattern of the three offices of Christ in the the knowledge of God, righteousness and holiness of His restored image? 7. Is it of essential importance that we understand and confess the covenant character of our relationship to God? Why do we seem to fear to speak of the covenant nowadays?

8. Have you heard of the creationist, traducianist or generationist views of the origin of the soul? How do you think that man gets what we call his “immortal soul?”

9. Why do we insist that creation and providence are to be carefully and clearly distinguished from each other? Is it possible to identify the process of evolution with providence? Is there any similarity between these two? What is the comfort for the Christian in the doctrine of divine providence?

10. Do we have a full and easy answer to the matter of God’s relationship to evil? Why do we insist that God is in no way the author of sin? Is it fair to say that people who believe in predestination must make God the author of sin?



(Scripture Passages: Genesis 3:1–24; Romans 3:10–12)

Five topics take up our attention: the origin of sin, the nature or character of sin, the Fall, sin’s punishment and the universality of sin.

The Origin of Sin

As created by God this world had its concentration point in Adam. To him God gave the Word of His Covenant, and to him Cod gave covenant fellowship through the one Logos (Word). Adam’s task was to respond in faith to God and His love—such response is to “keep the covenant.”

By unbelief and disobedience Adam lost the covenant. This Fall brought about the fall of the whole world. Behind the fall of man lies the earlier appearance of sin in the angel world. To that earlier fall we must go back if we are to get the true Scriptural picture of sin.

One of the most difficult of all questions is this: How could sin arise in a perfectly holy world? Various answers have been offered. They follow three basic patterns: first, one can look for sin’s origin in God Himself (Jacob Bohme; “the (lark nucleus in God;” but see Job 34:10, “Far he it from God, that he should do wickedness, and fr0m the Almighty that he should commit iniquity,” or I John 1:5, “. . . God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.”) Second, we can look for it in some eternal principle which is opposite to God (this is called dualism; a sample is ancient Persian dualism which says that the eternal kingdom of evil opposes the eternal kingdom of the good; another is gnosticism, popular in earlier centuries of this dispensation, which says that there is an eternal unholy stuff which opposes the eternally holy and spiritual god; over against both these and all dualisms we assert that God is the only eternal and original principle or beginning). The third possibility is to locate sin’s origin in the creature, specifically man. This is the only possible good answer.

The origill of sin lies in the sinful acts of a creature created with a morally free will. We must not try to get back of this by looking for an answer in the structure or nature or aptitude of the creature. We will then have to blame God who is the creator of that nature. Every attempt to explain the origin of sin must be avoided because such efforts always imply a possible excuse or justification of the sinner. All other religions than Christianity explain sin, only the Gospel pronounces man guilty. It might be expected that sin would be impossible to explain since it is something quite abnormal in God’s creation.

Concerning sin in the angel world Scripture gives us just an occasional revelation. In Revelation 12 it is said that the great dragon or serpent swept with him into sin a third part of the stars of the heavens. Apparently this means that onethird of the angels followed the chief of devils and became demons. So far as we know, redemption is impossible for angels because (1) the first origins of sin lie in the angel world; and (2) the world of angels is not an organic whole, comprehended in a single head, and no “savior” could substitute for all of them. It seems as if the fallen angels chose individually against God. According to Scripture pride is the beginning and the root principle of sin in the angel world (cf. I Tim. 3:6, “not a novice, lest being puffed up he fall into the condemnation of the devil”).

The Essential Character of Sin

Sin cannot be a positive thing for then it would be a creation of God. It is n missing of the mark, a lack, a state of being wanting or deficient. But this is a lack of something which ought and could be prcsellt, which gives it the charncter of a Wilful deprivntion. That negation which is sin is at once an active power by which it continuously develops. Sin may be described therefore as on active deprivation.

Scripture points to the negative character of sin when it speaks of missing the purpose or of lawlessness (I John 3:4, “Everyone that doeth sin doeth also lawlessness”). Because sin is transgression of the law sin can be known from the law (Catechism, Q. 3). Originally God gave the law to man in his heart (it is not correct, however, to speak of an in-created law ill the sense of an in-created knowledge of the law as the standard or norm for our conduct; this is just as wrong as to speak of an in-created knowledge of God. Man originally found in all things created the norm for love, n norm which became the law for covenant fellowship by the revelation of the Word of God’s covenant.)

Through the Fall the law in man’s heart became obscure hut not obliterated (Rom. 2:14, 15, “for when Gentiles that have not the law do by nature the things of the law, these, not having the law, arc the law unto themselves; in that they show the work of the law written in their hearts their conscience bearing witness therewith, and their thoughts one with another accusing or else excusing them”). In the form of the Ten Commandments (most of which are prohibitions) God revealed the law once again. The use of the law as the source of the knowledge of sin is to be distinguished from its use as the norm for gratitude (Catechism, 1st and 3rd parts).

The law Is not an eternal rule which stands far above both God and man (philosophers of the realism school taught this), nor is it something arbitrary, that is, without real substance (the philosophy called nominalism said that), but it is truly a law of God. God has commanded us to love Him and the neighbor because He Himself is love (I John 4:7, 8).

We must not speak of degrees of sin in the sense that some are forgivable and others are not, as Rome teaches. All sins are mortal and yet forgivable through Christ except the sin against the Holy Spirit. In all human sin lies an element of foolishness because men think that there is a possibility of getting something good from it. Satan sins out of pure hatred for God. Sometimes, after special enlightenment by the Holy Spirit, human sin can become devilish. Then we have a case of the sin against the Holy Spirit.

We can make these distinctions with respect to sin: sins of thoughts, words or deeds; sins against the first or second table of the law; sins of omission or commission.

The Fall

The things related in Genesis 2 and 3 are to be viewed as real descriptions of historical events for the following reasons: (I) the situation in Paradise was natural (“psychical” in 1 Cor. 15:44), approachable therefore by us in our thinking; (2) the obviously historical account found in Genesis 4 relates very simply to chapter 3: Cain is banished from the land of Eden where Genesis 3 says that Paradise was located; (3) the principal intent of Genesis 3 is not discernible unless we make use of all the historical particulars found in Scripture: the origin of sin is for us so great a mystery that we are absolutely dependent upon the other statements and accounts in Scripture, especially because our view of the Cross of Christ is inescapably and radically affected by our understanding of the origin of sin.

Sin takes place in the context of the probationary command (Gen. 2:17, “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die”). This command was placed before man that he might learn how to obey. Before this command was spoken Adam did the good spontaneously, out of his heart came only good. Only when the possibility of a conflict between Adam’s own insight and God’s will is established can he possibly come to self-conscious obedience. That kind of obedience God desired.

It is not true that man came to know good and evil by the eating of the fruit of the forbidden tree. We never learn to know evil as evil by doing it. On the other hand, God says after the Fall: “the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil” (Gen. 3:22). The word know must be seen here as equivalent to choosing or discerning. God here means to say that Adam had done just that in his fall. In his foolishness he now thinks himself to be what Satan had suggested he could become by eating of the forbidden fruit. The issue at the tree was, therefore, how would man choose, how would he discern with respect to good and evil? Would he do that in dependence upon and in agreement with God or would he do that in the way of a willful and rebellious abandonment of God In deference to his own ideas?

Further, we must remember that man expressed his relationship to all of creation in his relationship to the forbidden tree. He owned and used all of creation not by some fancied law of nature or natural right but as a free gift of God. This he had to confess daily as he, in glad obedience to his Maker, abstained from use of that one tree.

It is probably true that man never did eat of the tree of life since he stood almost immedintcly before the choice of using the fruit of the one tree or the other. Of course, eating of the tree of life, like eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Him who is the Life, can not be understood as an act which produces blessing without faith.

Satan’s intention was to make Adam sin as head of the whole human race. Nevertheless, he approached Eve first because she very likely had to hear the probationary command from Adam and because she might be expected to have less of a sense of responsibility than Adam, our head. Through Eve Satan reaches and deceives Adam. The most consequential act ever perpetrated by anyone (except Christ!) then took place.

Because Satan did not yet have access to man’s heart and had to come to man from the outside, be made use of an animal, the serpent, a creature “more subtle” (more perceptive, refined?) than any other of all the beasts that God had created and one with which man apparently enjoyed contact. Before the Fall Satan could not corrupt creation, although with God’s permission he could make temporary and limited use of the serpent. After sin the curse struck the serpent also, and that in a special way so that he becomes a peculiar illustration of God‘s curse upon creation, a curse which came most prominently upon Satan himself (Gen. 3:14).

The temptation of our first parents followed this course: (1) the excitement of lust for the forbidden: Hath God said, Ye shall not eat of any tree of the garden?; (2) the arousing of unbelief: Ye shall not surely die; (3) the suggestion of pride: Ye shall be as God; (4) the awakening of desire: The woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise; (5) the deed: she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat; and she gave also unto her husband with her, and he did eat.

The beginnings of sin in man lie in unbelief, in the willful and deliberate breaking of the covenant and the rejection of its fellowship.

The Punishment for Sin

Punishment is retribution and serves to provide redress to the offended and to restore the violated right. The rule which applies here is an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, which is to say that the punishment must measure up to the misdeed. Punishment is to be distinguished from chastisement or discipline, which seeks improvement and rehabilitation and which therefore follows a different pattern.

Christ did not abolish punishment when He said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Resist not him that is evil” (Matt. 5:39). We may never rise up against evil in order to avenge ourselves. Evil must be punished, but only by the duly appointed authorities and primarily to avenge God’s violated honor.

In general the punishment for sin is death, which means the breaking of fellowship. Since man has broken God’s covenant, God from His side breaks off all fellowship. He grieves because of the refection of His love and avenges by punishment the rights of His love. To be distinguished are temporal death as the breaking of fellowship with this visible world, spiritual death as the breaking of fellowship with God, and eternal death as the unending suffering of God’s curse.

The consequences of sin can be summarized as follows:

a. Guilt: this comes because God maintains Himself over against sin. It is to be described as the painful awareness that one deserves punishment. Guilt is not reducible to guilt feelings, although it docs show itself in such experience. Conscience is not an independent divine testimony within us but only the necessary confrontation within sinful man of his deeds with the law of God.

b. Pollution: this is the stain of moral impurity or corruption. Guilt means that we arc in conflict with God’s justice, pollution that we are in conflict with God’s holiness.

c. Curse: to the punishment for sin belongs all manner of suffering and disaster as evidence of the curse of God which covers the whole earth. By God’s grace the curse is in principle removed and the world is restored to God’s favor in and through the believer. The consequences of that grace work through to the unbeliever also so long as they live in the organic relationship of this world. By means of this goodness of God sin and its consequences are temporarily restrained. It is noteworthy that the judgment of God upon Adam and Eve is pronounced after the revelation of the Covenant of Grace. In that covenant suffering is not punishment but chastisement and becomes a blessing.

d. Death: the consummation of the suffering for sin is death.

e. Satan’s Rule: one of sin’s most awful consequences is the rule which he assumed over the world when he caused its covenant head to fall (Eph. 2:2).

The Catechism distinguishes between temporal and eternal punishments (Q. 10). Another important distinction is that between natural punishments which follow from certain sins (such as diseases in connection with drunkenness or other immorality), and the punishments which God brings upon sins. Eternal punishment is both natural (outer darkness, forsaken by God) and special (the everlasting fire, the wrath of God).

The Spread of Sin

The doctrine of inherited sin or original sin (in distinction from actual sin) is founded upon such Scriptures as:

a. Sin is general, which is explicitly stated in Job 14:4 and Romans 5:12, and which follows from the need for regeneration, said in Scripture to apply to all, John 3:3, 5. Head the following Scriptures:

Job 14:4, Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? not one.

Romans 5:12, Therefore, as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin; and so death passed unto all men, for that all sinned:

John 3:3, 5, Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except one be born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God . . . . Jesus answered, Verily. verily, I say unto thee, Except one be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

b. Sin is typical of man from his conception and birth onward, as the Bible says:

Ps. 51:5, Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.

John 3:6, That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

One of the greatest deviations from the truth is Pelagianism, an ancient but persistent error which denies original sin. It holds that the universality of sin is due to widespread imitation. Behind that lies the denial of the organic oneness of the human race and a pronounced individualism. Every man is then said to be born without sin, as Adam in Paradise. Moreover, Pelagianism denies that moral corruption is a consequence of sin. It sees sin only as an act of the will, not as something inherent or habitual. Pelagianism believes that man is by nature spiritually healthy.

heresy with which the Synod of Dort dealt) acknowledges that pollution is inherited (as a kind of moral burden or handicap), but denies inherited guilt as part of God’s curse. From there it goes on to the idea that man has retained a will that is free to do good, or, at least, free to believe in Christ. Semi-pelgianism posits that man by nature is spiritually ill.

Augustine and the Reformed thinkers confessed that man is spiritually dead. They based this on such texts as Ephesians 2:1, “And you did he make alive, when ye were dead through your trespasses and sins” and Romans 8:7, “because the mind of the flesh is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can it be.” In answer to the question, How did sin spread to all men?, they confessed the following: as a result of the fact that Adam was our head and that we are all federally comprehended in him, the sin of Adam was reckoned to all. Scripture speaks thus in Romans 5 and I Corinthians 15, where the two Adams are placed over against each other, and where it is said that “through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners.” This imputed sin of Adam is our original built. As a result of original guilt we have also an original pollution, that is, the moral depravity which extends to the whole nature of man.

To help with discussion:

1. How much time elapsed between the Fall in the angel world and the Fall on earth, in your opinion? How can we conceive of real struggle between the good and evil angels in heaven? 2. Why do you think that Paul speaks of “the mystery of lawlessness” in Thessalonians 2:7? 3. When we say that sin is not something positive do we lessen its gravity? What is the place of the law in the knowledge of sin? Don’t you think that the Catechism is too severe in its description of sin and its consequences? 4. Why does Jesus speak of the sin against the Holy Spirit when His enemies ascribe His miracles to the devil? Need anyone who is Sincerely concerned fear the possibility that he may have committed this sin? Is it possible to commit this sin unknowingly? 5. Why is there such a strong attempt in our time to say that the earlier chapters of Genesis are not literally historical? Is this of any great significance for our salvation? 6. Does the fact that the woman sinned first mean that she ought to be subordinate to the man? Are women mow likely to sin under all circumstances than men? 7. Is guilt an objectionable thing as such? Is there an unbelieving response to guilt which might seriously affect one’s peace of mind? Do you think that our views of sin and guilt cause mental illness? 8. Do you believe that man is totally depraved? absolutely depraved? Is this distinction worthwhile? Is the total depravity of our nature fully overcame by faith in Christ in this life?