Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Prophet, Priest, and King

Q. 23: What offices doth Christ execute as our Redeemer?
Answer: Christ, as our Redeemer, executeth the offices of a prophet, of a priest, and of a king, both in his estate of humiliation and exaltation. (WSC)

The eternal Son of God became our redeemer to deliver us out of an estate of sin and misery unto an estate of salvation and glory. He became the mediator between God and sinful man. He is not our redeemer and mediator by nature, but by grace. As our redeemer, he fulfills the duties of a prophet, a priest, and a king. In the Old Testament, people were appointed to these offices by anointing (by the Spirit and/or with a ceremony using oil), and so Jesus is called the "Christ," which in Greek means the "anointed one" (as does the Hebrew word "Messiah.") He fulfilled the duties of these offices in his life on earth and he has continued to fulfill them in heaven.

God laid down the pattern for these offices in the work of the prophets, priests, and kings of Israel in the Old Testament. The prophets like Moses, Elisha, and Jeremiah delivered God’s word to his people, often did miracles which demonstrated God’s power and mercy, and interceded for the people. The priests like Aaron, Zadok, and Ezra received God’s word from the prophets and taught it, maintained the worship and holiness of God, offered the various sacrifices of the people to reconcile them to God, and interceded for the people. The kings like David, Asa, and Jehoshaphat received God’s word from the priests and enforced it, guided the people by it, delivered the people from their enemies, gave them peace in the land, and interceded for the people. Sometimes these offices overlapped. Melchizedek was both a priest and king, Ezekiel was both a priest and a prophet, and David was primarily known as a king but was also a prophet (Acts 2:30).

Yet, all these men were themselves in need of salvation and all of them died. Their insufficiency pointed forward to one who would come and fulfill these tasks for God’s people and accomplish an eternal redemption. It was necessary that God himself come to fulfill these tasks. In fact, when Jesus was born, it had been hundreds of years since a prophet had prophesied and even longer since the last Davidic king had reigned. This increased all the more the sense of expectation among the people as they looked forward to the fulfillment of the messianic prophesies. Scripture prophesied that a man would come who would be a prophet like Moses (Deut. 18:15-16), a king from the line of David (Is. 9:6-7), and a priest who would make atonement by his own death and who would make intercession for his people (Is. 53).

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

The Humanity of Christ

Q. 22: How did Christ, being the Son of God, become man?
Answer: Christ, the Son of God, became man, by taking to himself a true body, and a reasonable soul, being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the virgin Mary, and born of her yet without sin. (WSC

Christ has from eternity been the Son of God, of one substance with the Father. At a particular time, he became man for our salvation. He did this without giving up his divine nature, but united the two natures in one person. This is one of the great wonders of the Christian faith. It is such a wondrous thing that from time to time some people have felt the need to tone it down, to explain that his physical body was an illusion or that he only took on part of man’s nature (e.g. a human body but not a human mind). But our catechism explains what God has revealed in his word concerning Jesus, that because we “share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things” and was made to be “like his brothers in every respect” so that he might be our high priest and die on our behalf (Heb. 2:14-18). As a man, he “in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15).

Therefore, his body was a true body, subject to the limitations of a human body. He took on a human soul, a “reasonable soul” (that is, a rational soul). He took on a human mind, will, and affections. He fully shared in our human experience, both in the outer life and in the inner life. When he suffered for us, he suffered in both body and soul (Matt. 26:38). He is able to sympathize with our weakness (Heb. 4:15). While he remained without sin, and thus did not experience inner temptation arising from evil desires, yet he did experience things like hunger, thirst, sorrow, and weakness, as well as the temptations of the world and the evil one.

He took on this human nature when he was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin Mary (Luke 1:35, Matt. 1:18). As regards his divine nature, the Son is eternally begotten of the Father, but as regards his manhood, he was begotten of Mary, of her substance. He was the promised offspring of the woman (Gen. 3:15), of Israelite and Davidic descent according to the flesh (Rom. 9:3, 5).

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4–5).

Friday, June 4, 2021

The Only Redeemer

Q. 21: Who is the Redeemer of God's elect?
Answer: The only Redeemer of God's elect is the Lord Jesus Christ, who, being the eternal Son of God, became man and so was, and continueth to be, God and man in two distinct natures, and one person, forever. (WSC)

In the covenant of grace, God delivers his elect from their sin and misery by a Redeemer. The only Redeemer of God’s elect is the Lord Jesus Christ. “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5).

Jesus is the eternal Son of God. He did not become the Son of God by being born on earth, for God did not send him to become his Son, but “sent his only-begotten Son” that we might live through him (1 John 4:9, John 3:16). Jesus dwelt in eternal glory and love with the Father and the Spirit (John 17:5, 24). He has always been God. But it was for us, and for our salvation, that he became man around 4 BC. This incarnation was necessary for him to be the mediator between God and man and for him to offer himself as a ransom for sinners (1 Tim. 2:5-6). Having added to himself human nature for this purpose, he will always be both God and man.

It is very important to maintain both the union and the distinction of the two natures of Christ. His two natures are distinct but not separate. One heretical distortion of this doctrine, known as Nestorianism, is to divide Christ into two persons, which gets into biblical and theological problems really fast. Another heretical distortion, known as Eutychianism, is to combine Christ’s two natures into one nature, usually with the result that his humanity is divinized. But the book of Hebrews, especially 2:14-18 and 4:14-16, emphasizes the importance of Christ’s true humanity. The council of Chalcedon in 451 rejected both of these distortions as it articulated the biblical doctrine of Christ’s two natures in one person (you can read their definition here). Incidentally, R.J. Rushdoony named his organization after Chalcedon because of the implications of this doctrine, such as that no man or state can transcend its creatureliness and play God. Our confession of faith affirms the council of Chalcedon’s definition in chapter 8, article 2, “So that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion. Which person is very God and very man, yet one Christ, the only mediator between God and man.”

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Thoughts on Pride Month

“…just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.” (Jude 1:7)

In his short letter, Jude wrote to warn of those who had crept into the church and were perverting the grace of our God into lasciviousness (Jude 1:4). One of the examples of judgment he gives is that of Sodom and Gomorrah. While Sodom had many sins (Ezek. 16:49-50), Jude identifies its practice of sexual immorality, and of unnatural desires in particular (cp. Romans 1:24-27), as causes for God’s judgment. These cities “serve as an example” that we might turn away from such ways.

The apostle Peter, in a similar passage, adds a positive example, that of “righteous Lot,” whom God rescued. While not everything Lot did was exemplary, he was exemplary in being “greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard)…” (2 Peter 2:7–8).

As you see sexual sin promoted, this month in particular, it is right and fitting to be distressed by it. It is not self-righteous to be repulsed by the celebration of homosexuality if you are also examining yourself and repenting of you own sins, being moved in both cases by grief and hatred towards sin and a love for God and his holiness.

Near the end of his letter, Jude exhorts his readers to be “building yourselves up in your most holy faith” and to “have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh” (Jude 1:20, 22-23). Aversion to sin and detestation of sin is compatible with mercy towards  those who practice it. Scripture exhorts us to both.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Are All Sins Equal?

There is a popular misconception out there that all sins are equal, that no sin is worse than another sin. Many Christians have picked this up from a misunderstanding of James 2:10, which says that "whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it." But this verse does not mean that to break one commandment is to break every commandment. Rather, as the preceding and following verses explain, it means that to break one commandment makes a person a transgressor of the law and liable to judgment (James 2:9, 11). Apart from the mercy offered in Christ, the law demands perfect obedience. 

While all sins are the same in that they all violate God's law, are contrary to his character, and deserve eternal judgment, yet in other respects they are not the same. The Bible regularly speaks of sins that are greater than others (e.g. John 19:11, Ezek. 8:6) and which deserve greater judgment than others (e.g. Matt. 11:22, Luke 12:47-48). The Westminster Larger Catechism summarizes the biblical material on this point in the questions below (you can find them here with abundant, but not comprehensive, biblical citations). 

To believe that no sin is worse than another sin is an unbiblical concept. I believe many people hold to this idea with good intentions, but it often leads to bad consequences in practice and a superficial understanding of sin. A wise person knows how to evaluate sin and does not treat it all the same. In this way, not only is he able to address the sins of others more wisely and justly, but he also gains a better sense of the depravity of his own sins and a better sense of the mercy of God in Christ. 

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Question 150: Are all transgressions of the law of God equally heinous in themselves, and in the sight of God?
Answer: All transgressions of the law are not equally heinous; but some sins in themselves, and by reason of several aggravations, are more heinous in the sight of God than others.

Question 151: What are those aggravations that make some sins more heinous than others?
Answer: Sins receive their aggravations,
  1. From the persons offending; if they be of riper age, greater experience or grace, eminent for profession, gifts, place, office, guides to others, and whose example is likely to be followed by others.
  2. From the parties offended: if immediately against God, his attributes, and worship; against Christ, and his grace; the Holy Spirit, his witness, and workings; against superiors, men of eminency, and such as we stand especially related and engaged unto; against any of the saints, particularly weak brethren, the souls of them, or any other, and the common good of all or many.
  3. From the nature and quality of the offence: if it be against the express letter of the law, break many commandments, contain in it many sins: if not only conceived in the heart, but breaks forth in words and actions, scandalize others, and admit of no reparation: if against means, mercies, judgments, light of nature, conviction of conscience, public or private admonition, censures of the church, civil punishments; and our prayers, purposes, promises, vows, covenants, and engagements to God or men: if done deliberately, willfully, presumptuously, impudently, boastingly, maliciously, frequently, obstinately, with delight, continuance, or relapsing after repentance.
  4. From circumstances of time, and place: if on the Lord's day, or other times of divine worship; or immediately before or after these, or other helps to prevent or remedy such miscarriages: if in public, or in the presence of others, who are thereby likely to be provoked or defiled.
Question 152: What doth every sin deserve at the hands of God?
Answer: Every sin, even the least, being against the sovereignty, goodness, and holiness of God, and against his righteous law, deserveth his wrath and curse, both in this life, and that which is to come; and cannot be expiated but by the blood of Christ.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

God's Gracious Covenant

Q. 20: Did God leave all mankind to perish in the estate of sin and misery?
Answer: God having, out of his mere good pleasure, from all eternity, elected some to everlasting life did enter into a covenant of grace, to deliver them out of the estate of sin and misery, and to bring them into an estate of salvation by a Redeemer. (WSC)

Thanks be to God for his grace and mercy! We were helpless on our own, wallowing in the sin we loved and doomed to unending misery. But he did not leave us to perish in our sin and misery.

“Election” and “predestination” refer to God’s choice of a people to be saved by him and brought to everlasting life and glory. This choice occurred before the creation of the world in eternity (Eph. 1:4, 2 Tim. 1:9). It was not based on God’s foresight of our actions (Rom. 9:11). In fact, any faith or good deeds we do is a result, not a cause, of his decision to save us. We have no grounds of boasting in our salvation - all the praise goes to God’s grace (Eph. 1:5-6). While God is just to leave some in their sins and judge them for their freely chosen rebellion against him, showing his justice, wrath, and power, he also demonstrates his mercy in his election of some to everlasting life, not on the basis of works, but of his grace (Rom. 9:10-24, 11:5-6).

Because God had from all eternity elected some to everlasting life, he entered into a covenant of grace, a second covenant. This one would be a redemptive covenant, bringing his people out of sin and misery into an estate of salvation. It would be a covenant established upon the work of a Redeemer, not our perfect obedience. In it, salvation is freely offered to all those who believe in this Redeemer (John 3:16). Here is how the Larger Catechism explains how the grace of God is manifested in this second covenant:
“The grace of God is manifested in the second covenant, in that he freely provideth and offereth to sinners a Mediator, and life and salvation by him; and requiring faith as the condition to interest them in him, promiseth and giveth his Holy Spirit to all his elect, to work in them that faith, with all other saving graces; and to enable them unto all holy obedience, as the evidence of the truth of their faith and thankfulness to God, and as the way which he hath appointed them to salvation.” (WLC, Q. 32)
God published this covenant as early as Genesis 3:15 where he gave the promise of the woman’s offspring who would crush the serpent's head. He continued to renew and progressively reveal this covenant with his people throughout the Old Testament - with Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the children of Israel at Sinai and on the plain of Moab, under Joshua in the Promised Land (twice), and in King David and his heirs. The revelation of this covenant culminated when the Redeemer himself came to accomplish redemption. Jesus established the final and permanent administration of this covenant, sometimes called the “new covenant.” For more on the doctrine of the covenant, see my video on the topic here or read my blog post summarizing the doctrine here.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

The Misery of Fallen Man

Q. 19: What is the misery of that estate whereinto man fell?
Answer: All mankind by their fall lost communion with God, are under his wrath and curse, and so made liable to all miseries in this life, to death itself, and to the pains of hell for ever. (WSC)

In question 17, the catechism had noted that due to sin, man fell into an estate of sin and misery. Question 18 described the sinfulness and question 19 describes the misery of this fallen condition.

Through sin, all mankind lost communion with God. We were created to live with God, to communicate with him, to receive his favor and blessing, and to give him glory and grateful praise. The covenant of works had bound God and man in a bond of mutual love. But this bond was broken and enmity between God and man was introduced when man broke God’s command and sided with the serpent. Adam and Eve first hid from the presence of the Lord and then were sent out of the Garden, away from the tree of life (Gen. 3). Apart from Christ, mankind has no hope and is without God in the world (Eph. 2:12).

Not only did mankind lose communion with God, the source of every blessing, but it also justly came under his wrath and curse. People are now by nature “children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3), that is, “people destined for wrath.” Because he is righteous, God's wrath burns against wickedness. “God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day” (Ps. 7:11). God’s wrath and displeasure is a great misery for fallen man. 

God's curse makes mankind subject to suffering, death, and hell. Even in this life, God begins to punish men for their sins (Lam. 3:39). Physical suffering is combined with inner suffering: the “sense of God's revenging wrath, horror of conscience, and a fearful expectation of judgment” which are to the wicked the beginning of their torments (WLC 83). And as God had warned Adam, "the wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23). Moreover, the final sentence of the cursed on the day of judgement will be to be sent away from Christ into eternal punishment (Matt. 25:41, 46).

This is the summery of man’s misery, although it is not meant to sufficiently convey the experience of this misery. But this is also the misery from which we are delivered by the grace of God. That will be the topic of the next question. 

The Life of Oliver Woods

I have written in the past concerning the history of Samuel Woods, a captain in the American Revolution, a Presbyterian elder, and one of my wife’s ancestors. I would like to continue down the line and discuss Samuel’s youngest son, Oliver, my wife’s great-great-great-great-great grandfather. 

Oliver Woods was born at Boone’s Station, Kentucky, October 15, 1784, the son of Samuel and Margaret Woods.[1] He was named after an older brother who had been killed by Indians in Kentucky.[2] Later the family moved to south central Tennessee.[3] In 1807, Oliver married Nancy Haynes in what would become Giles County, Tennessee. Nancy had been born in either North Carolina or South Carolina on March 5, 1784.[4] Her father, John Haynes, and his brothers fought in the American Revolution, one of his brothers being killed and another taken prisoner at Cowen’s Ford.[5] Her father volunteered six times to serve in the NC militia during the war, and his service is recorded in his pension application.[6] Following the war, her father moved the family to Tennessee where she met Oliver.

Oliver and Nancy lived in Tennessee for the first thirty or so years of their marriage. Oliver farmed as well as taught school and vocal music, being well educated and a skilled musician.[7] During the War of 1812, he and his brother William enlisted. He served in Col. Hall’s 1st Regiment of Tennessee Volunteers, which was one of the three regiments mustered for Andrew Jackson’s expedition to Natchez (December 1812 to April 1813).[8] It is said that his brother William fought at the Battle of New Orleans.[9]

In the 1830s Oliver moved his family to Benton County, Arkansas and owned 160 acres which is today next to Wal-Mart’s Headquarters in present-day Bentonville (between SE 8th St. and SE J St.).[10] Yet by 1840 he and his wife and two of their children are listed in the census living in Barry County, Missouri. In 1850, Oliver and Nancy are listed in the census as empty nesters, both 67 years old, farming in Lawrence County, Missouri. Nancy died in 1859[11] and Oliver is listed in the 1860 census as 76 years old, living in the household of his son, John B. Woods, also in Lawrence County. It is said that Oliver was “one of the fourteen men who cast their vote for Abraham Lincoln, in 1860, and was compelled to leave the county. He went to Iowa, and died at his daughter’s, Eliza Andrews, home, in 1863.”[12] His gravestone says he died on May 14, 1863, aged 78 years and 7 months. He is buried in New Hope Cemetery, Hiattsville, Appanoose County, Iowa.[13]

Oliver and Nancy had five children still living in 1863.[14] As one reads the history of their children, it is evident that they passed on the faith of their fathers, although they had made the switch to the Cumberland Presbyterian branch of Presbyterianism. 

The Cumberland Presbyterian Church began in 1810 in the wake of the revivals in Kentucky and Tennessee and the consequent shortage of ministers. In contrast to the main body of Presbyterians, it lowered the educational standards for ordination, did not require ministers to subscribe to the Calvinist doctrine of predestination, and modified its confession of faith accordingly (available here). I do not agree with their modifications, but at least they were not going as far as others at the same time, like Barton Stone, who left Presbyterianism altogether.

The children of Oliver and Nancy Woods:

- Samuel Newton Woods, b. Nov. 7, 1808, m. Cicily Pace in 1828, d. April 29, 1848, Lawrence County, Missouri.[15] It was said that “religiously he was a Cumberland Presbyterian, politically he was a Benton Democrat.”[16] (This is the son from whom my wife is descended.) 

- John Blackburn Woods, b. Feb. 10, 1811, m. Martha Pace in 1832, d. July 11, 1884. He went on to own 1,700 acres in Lawrence Co., Missouri. He was a Union supporter during the Civil War, a judge, a Republican, and a Cumberland Presbyterian,[17] one of the first elders of the Presbyterian Church at Mt. Vernon, Missouri.[18]

- Nancy L. (Woods) Andrews, b. Oct. 24, 1812? m. Silas Milton Andrews in 1834, d. Aug. 23, 1903. She and her husband were early settlers of Appanoose County, Iowa and she died there at the age of 90. The Andrews were Democrats and Nancy had been a member of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church since she was 17 years of age.[19]

- Margarette M. (Woods) Pace, b. Feb. 24, 1815, m. Christopher Pace in 1830, d. June 23, 1895 in Bentonville, Arkansas.[20] It was reported in the Bentonville Sun (29 June 1895), that she was “born in Tennessee in 1814 and was united in marriage to C.S. Pace in 1830 and in 1835 removed to Benton county, Arkansas … The deceased united with Cumberland Presbyterian church at the age of fifteen and lived a consistent member to the time of her death ... Five children…mourn the loss of a most devoted mother and the community has lost a noble Christian woman.”[21]

- Elvira (Woods) Erwin, b. 1820, m. Robert Erwin on Dec. 12, 1843, d. Sep. 1885 in Cornersville, TN.[22]

- Andrew Pinkney Woods, b. Jan. 16, 1821, m. Elizabeth Jane McCall, d. Feb. 17, 1887 in Barry County, Missouri.[23]

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Footnotes

1. “S.M. Andrews,” The History of Appanoose County, Iowa (Chicago: Western Historical Company, 1878), 603. This year and state is confirmed by his listing in the census in 1850 and 1860 (Lawrence County, MO). 
2. LeGrand M. Jones, Family Reminiscences (St. Louis, MO: C.R. Barnes Pub. Co., 1894), 44. His brother’s death is also mentioned in “S.M. Andrews,” The History of Appanoose County, Iowa, 603.
3. The date is given as Nov. 4, 1807 in “S.M. Andrews,” The History of Appanoose County, Iowa, 603. The marriage record states that Oliver acquired the marriage license on December 1st, 1807 in Williamson County, TN, part of which later became part of Giles County (Tennessee State Marriages, 1780-2002. Nashville, TN, USA: Tennessee State Library and Archives. Microfilm).
4. This date the NC as the location is found in “S.M. Andrews,” The History of Appanoose County, Iowa, 603. A SC birthplace is listed in the 1850 census and in the White Journal, John Henning Woods, 1856-1873 (Ms2017-030), page 2. http://digitalsc.lib.vt.edu/exhibits/show/john-henning-woods/white-2-family-tree. Her father’s pension application says that they lived in NC and moved from there to TN. 
5. “S.M. Andrews,” The History of Appanoose County, Iowa, 603.
6. Pension application, 13 Apr 1846, for John Haynes' Revolutionary War Service, Widow's pension W27. https://revwarapps.org/w27.pdf 
7. “John H. Woods,” The History of Lawrence County, Missouri, (Goodspeed Pub. Co., 1888), 1005-1006. There is record of Oliver owning land in Giles County, TN on Jan. 28, 1817 (Tennessee State Library and Archives; Nashville, Tennessee; Series Number: 02; Series Title: Entries). 
8. He is listed as a private in 1 Reg’t (Hall’s) Tennessee Volunteers (National Archives and Records Administration. Index to the Compiled Military Service Records for the Volunteer Soldiers Who Served During the War of 1812. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration. M602, roll 232.) Its regimental history is available here: https://sos.tn.gov/products/tsla/regimental-histories-tennessee-units-during-war-1812.
9. “John H. Woods,” The History of Lawrence County, Missouri, 1005-1006. “Oliver … and William took active parts in the War of 1812, William especially distinguishing himself at the battle of New Orleans.”
11. “S.M. Andrews,” The History of Appanoose County, Iowa, 603.
12. “John H. Woods,” The History of Lawrence County, Missouri, 1005-1006.
14. “S.M. Andrews,” The History of Appanoose County, Iowa, 603.
17. “John H. Woods,” The History of Lawrence County, Missouri, 1005-1006.
18. Lawrence County Missouri History, edited by Jessie C Miller, et al; (Lawrence County Historical Society, 1974), 539-540.
19. “S.M. Andrews,” The History of Appanoose County, Iowa, 603. Biographical and Genealogical History of Appanoose and Monroe Counties, (Iowa, Lewis Pub., 1903), 81. Her gravestone, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/53892815/nancy-louisa-andrews
22. She is mentioned in the family tree recorded in the White Journal, John Henning Woods, 1856-1873 (Ms2017-030), page 2 (Special Collections, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Va.) http://digitalsc.lib.vt.edu/exhibits/show/john-henning-woods/white-2-family-tree. Other information from census records (1850-1880). 

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

The Sinfulness of Fallen Man

Q. 17: Into what estate did the fall bring mankind?
A: The fall brought mankind into an estate of sin and misery.

Q. 18: Wherein consists the sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell?
A: The sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell, consists in the guilt of Adam's first sin, the want of original righteousness, and the corruption of his whole nature, which is commonly called original sin; together with all actual transgressions which proceed from it. (WSC)

As we saw last time, Adam’s sin had consequences for all those whom he represented in the covenant of works. By his sin, mankind fell from its original blessed estate. Now the catechism goes on to explain the estate into which man fell. This second estate is one of sin and misery. “Estate” here refers to man’s state or condition. The condition of fallen man is marked by depravity and its consequences.

Next week we will come to the question regarding the misery of this estate. But first, the catechism describes the sinfulness of this estate. This sinfulness consists of two kinds of sin: original and actual. “Actual” is not contrasted here with “imaginary.” Rather, the distinction is between the corruption of our nature and the activity which proceeds from it, namely, sinful thoughts, words, and deeds. Both original and actual sin are truly and properly sin, being out of accord with God’s law.

Original sin consists of three things. 1. The guilt of Adam’s first sin. This guilt is imputed to mankind, (Rom. 5:12-19), since Adam acted on our behalf as our covenant head. 2. The lack of original righteousness. God had created man not merely neutral, but good (Gen. 1:31), with a knowledge of God and an inclination and ability to serve him. It was natural then for man to love and obey God, but this natural tendency was lost in the fall. 3. The corruption of his whole nature. This is sometimes referred to as total depravity, that is, the idea every faculty of man is morally corrupt. His mind is debased and hostile to God (Rom. 1:28, 8:7), his heart is deceitful and wicked (Jer. 14:9), and his body is an instrument of sin (Rom. 6:13, 19). Not every sin is equally depraved, and not every man is as bad as he could be (thank God!), yet even when he does things which externally may conform to God’s law, they are defiled by sinful motives (Matt. 6:1-16, Heb. 11:6, Titus 1:15) and therefore cannot please God (Rom. 8:8).

From this sinful nature proceeds all actual transgressions. “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). As Jesus said regarding false prophets, “every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit” (Matthew 7:17).

This was the condition which we all inherited. We were all dead in trespasses and sins, carrying out the sinful desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind (Eph. 2:1-3). It is only by the grace of God that we are delivered from this bondage to sin (Eph. 2:4-10).

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

The Fall of Adam and the Fall of Mankind

Q. 16: Did all mankind fall in Adam's first transgression?
Answer: The covenant being made with Adam, not only for himself, but for his posterity; all mankind, descending from him by ordinary generation, sinned in him, and fell with him, in his first transgression. (WSC)

Adam was the head of the human race. God made his covenant with humanity by making his covenant with its head, with Adam (Gen. 2:15-17). It is similar to how a king might make a treaty with another nation by making a treaty with its king. In this case, Adam broke the covenant, aligning with the serpent, plunging the whole human race into a war with God. Because he represented his descendants, they all sinned in him and fell with him. His sinful nature would be conveyed to them by natural generation (Gen. 5:3, Ps. 51:5, John 3:6), and his guilt was imputed to them by virtue of the covenant (Rom. 5:12-21). Therefore all are doomed to die, being subject to the curse of the covenant of works.

This relation between us and Adam is taught in Romans 5. Paul says that “sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…” (5:12). He notes that Adam’s transgression was unique, “a type of the one who was to come” (5:14). He sinned as a representative head bringing condemnation and death to all he represented, just as Christ obeyed as a representative head and brought justification and life to all he represented (5:15, 18-19). “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (5:19).

Notice how our catechism carefully describes those whom Adam represented: “...all mankind, descending from him by ordinary generation…” What man did not descend from him by ordinary generation? Whom did he not represent? Who did not receive his fallen nature? The one who was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin Mary and born of her, yet without sin. Jesus Christ is the head of the new humanity, bringing us out of our fallen estate unto life and glory.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

The Forbidden Fruit

Q. 15: What was the sin whereby our first parents fell from the estate wherein they were created?
Answer: The sin whereby our first parents fell from the estate wherein they were created, was their eating the forbidden fruit. (WSC
God had made our first parents, Adam and Eve, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness. He had given them dominion over all the earth and an abundance of plants and trees producing food for them. They could eat of any tree of the garden, except for one, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, on pain of death (Gen. 2:16-17). It was to be a symbol of God’s authority, a reminder that everything else was given by his generosity, and a test of man’s loyalty to his Creator.

Yet, despite all these good and generous provisions, our first parents violated God’s law by eating this forbidden fruit. In doing so they rebelled against God, aligned themselves with his enemy (the serpent), and demonstrated ingratitude for God's gifts, unbelief in his word, and the proud desire to be as God. This was the sin that broke the covenant of works and caused their fall from their first estate.

Genesis 3 describes how this sin took place. A serpent came to tempt Eve to sin, a serpent who is identified in Revelation 12:9 and 20:2 as the one who is called “the devil” and “Satan.” In John 8:44, Jesus described the devil as “the father of lies” and “a murderer from the beginning.” While he was good when originally created by God, yet this has been his character since he first came on the scene in Genesis 3. The devil was filled with malice as he came as a serpent to destroy mankind. He achieved this destruction by deceiving Eve, persuading her with lies to doubt God’s word and to desire and eat the forbidden fruit. She then gave Adam the fruit and he ate, knowing that it was forbidden. The devil continues to prowl around, seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8), so be watchful and prayerful that you might not succumb to temptation. And be grateful that this sin was not the end of the story. While it caused immense harm for all mankind, it also set the stage for God’s glorious work of redemption.