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§ 10. Mediate Imputation.

About the middle of the seventeenth century Amyraut, Cappel, and La Place (or Placæus), three distinguished professors in the French theological school at Saumur, introduced several modifications of the Augustinian or Reformed doctrine on the decrees, election, the atonement, and the imputation of Adam’s sin. La Place taught that we derive a corrupt nature from Adam, and that that corrupt nature, and not Adam’s sin, is the ground of the condemnation which has come upon all mankind. When it was objected to this statement of the case that it left out of view the guilt of Adam’s first sin, he answered that he did not deny the imputation of that sin, but simply made it dependent on our participation of his corrupted nature. We are inherently depraved, and therefore we are involved in the guilt of Adam’s sin. There is no direct or immediate imputation of Adam’s sin to his posterity, but only an indirect or mediate imputation of it, founded on the fact that we share his moral character. These views were first presented by La Place in a disputation, “De statu hominis lapsi ante gratiam,” published in the “Theses Salmurienses,” and afterwards more elaborately in a treatise, “De imputatione primi peccati Adami.” This doctrine was formally condemned by the National Synod of France in 1644-45;204204See Quick’s Synodicon, London, 1692. by the Swiss churches in the “Formula Consensus;” and by the theologians of Holland. Jæger, a Lutheran divine, in his “Ecclesiastical History,”205205Tom. i. lib. ix. cap. v. is justified in saying, “Contra doctrinam Plactæi — tota Gallia reformata, quin et Theologi 206reformati in Hollandiâ surrexêre.” The decree of the French Synod of Charenton on this subject is as follows: “Cum relatum esset ad Synodum, scripta quædam . . . . prodisse, quæ totam rationem peccati originalis solâ corruptione hæreditariâ in omnibus hominibus inhærente definiunt, et primi peccati Adami imputationem negant: Damnavit Synodus doctrinam ejusmodi, quatenus peccati originalis naturam ad corruptionem hæreditariam posterum Adæ ita restringit, ut imputationem excludat primi illius peccati, quo lapsus est Adam: Adeoque censuris omnibus ecclesiasticis subjiciendos censuit pastores, professores, et quoscunque alios, qui in hujus quæstionis disceptatione a communi sententia recesserit Ecclesiarum Protestantium, quæ omnes hactenus et corruptionem illam, et imputationem hanc in omnes Adami posteros descendentem agnoverunt.

It was to evade the force of this decision that Placæus proposed the distinction between mediate and immediate imputation. He said he did not deny the imputation of Adam’s sin, but only that it preceded the view of hereditary corruption. But this is the very thing which the Synod asserted. Hereditary corruption, or spiritual death is the penalty, or, as expressed by the Lutheran confessions, by Calvin, and by the Protestants generally, it was an evil inflicted by “the just judgment of God, on account of Adam’s sin (propter peccatum Adami).” The Formula Consensus Ecclesiarum Helveticarum was set forth 1675, in opposition to the doctrine of Amyraut on universal grace, to the doctrine of Placæus on mediate imputation, and to that of others concerning the active obedience of Christ.206206Niemeyer’s Collectio Confessionum, p. lxxxi. In that Formula it is said: “Censemus igitur (i.e., because the covenant of works was made not only with Adam, but also in him, with the whole human race) peccatum Adami omnibus ejus posteris, judicio Dei arcano et justo, imputari. Testatur quippe Apostolus ‘in Adamo omnes peccasse:’ ‘Unius hominis inobedientia peccatores multos constitui;’ ‘in eodem omnes mori.’ Neque vero ratio apparet, quemadmodum hæreditaria corruptio, tanquam mors spiritualis, in universum genus humanum justo Dei judicio cadere possit, nisi ejusdem generis humani delictum aliquod, mortis illius reatum inducens, præcesserit. Cum Deus justissimus totius terræ judex nonnisi sontem puniat.207207Art. x.; Niemeyer, p. 733.

Rivet, one of the professors of the University of Leyden, published a treatise in support of the decision of the French Synod, entitled “Decretum Synodi Nationalis Ecclesiarum Reformatarum Galliæ initio anni 1645, de Imputatione primi Peccati omnibus Adami posteris, 207cum Ecclesiarum et Doctorum Protestantium consensu, ex scriptis eorum ab Andrea Riveto collecto.” This treatise is contained in the third volume of the folio edition of his works. His colleagues in the University published their formal endorsement of his work, and earnestly commended it as an antidote to the new doctrine of Placæus. The theologians of the other universities of Holland joined in this condemnation of the doctrine of mediate imputation. They call it the εὕρημα Imputationis Mediatæ a “ficulneum nuditatis indecentis tegumentum,” and insist that the imputation of Adam’s sin is no more founded on our inherent corruption than the imputation of Christ’s righteousness is founded on our inherent holiness. “Quomodo et justitia Christi electis imputatur, non mediate per renovationem et obedientiam horum propriam, sed immediate, ad quam hæc ipsa propria eorum obedientia demum subsequitur.208208De Moor, Commentarius in Marckii Compendium, cap. xv. § 32, vol. iii. p. 280. These two great doctrines were regarded as inseparably united. The Protestant theologians agree in holding that “Imputatio justitiæ Christi et culpæ Adami pari passu ambulant, et vel utraque ruit, vel utraque agnosci debet.209209Ibid. vol. iii. p. 255.

Mediate Imputation outside of the French Church.

Although the doctrine of mediate imputation was thus generally condemned both by the Reformed and Lutheran Churches, it found some distinguished advocates beyond the pale of the French Church. The younger Vitringa, Venema, and Stapfer, in his “Polemical Theology,” gave it their sanction. From the last named author it was adopted by President Edwards, in one chapter of his work on “Original Sin.” It appears there, however, merely as an excrescence. It was not adopted into his system so as to qualify his theological views on other doctrines. Although President Edwards does clearly commit himself to the doctrine of Placæus, as he says,210210Original Sin, IV. iii.; Works, edit. N. Y. 1829, vol. ii. p. 544. “that the evil disposition is first, and the charge of guilt consequent,” nevertheless he expressly teaches the doctrine of immediate imputation formally and at length in other portions of that work. (1.) He argues through a whole section to prove the federal headship of Adam. (2.) He holds that the threatening of death made to Adam included the loss of original righteousness and spiritual death. (3.) That that threatening included his posterity, and that the evils which they suffer in consequence of his sin are truly penal. If this be so, if the loss of original righteousness 208and inherent depravity are penal, they suppose antecedent guilt. That is, a guilt antecedent, and not consequent to the existence and view of the depravity. (4.) In his exposition of Rom. v. 12-21, he expressly teaches the common doctrine, and says, “As this place in general is very full and plain, so the doctrine of the corruption of nature, as derived from Adam, and also the imputation of his first sin, are both clearly taught in it. The imputation of Adam’s one transgression, is indeed most directly and frequently asserted. We are here assured that by one man’s sin death passed on all; all being adjudged to this punishment as having sinned (so it is implied) in that one man’s sin. And it is repeated, over and over, that all are condemned, many are dead, many made sinners, etc., by one man’s offence, by the disobedience of one, and by one offence.”211211Original Sin, III. i.; Works, vol. ii. p. 512. As guilt precedes punishment, if, as Edwards says, depravity or spiritual death is a punishment, then the imputation of the guilt of Adam’s first sin precedes depravity, and is not consequent upon it. This is the current representation throughout the work on Original Sin. It is only when in answer to the objection that it is unjust that we should be punished for the sin of Adam, that he enters on an abstruse metaphysical discussion on the nature of oneness or identity, and tries to prove212212Ibid. p. 546. that Adam and his posterity are one, and not distinct agents. It is, therefore. after all, realism, rather than mediate imputation, that Edwards for the the adopted. Placæus and his associates, in order to defend the ground which they had taken, appealed to many passages in the writings of earlier theologians which seemed to ignore the immediate imputation of Adam’s sin, and to place the condemnation of the race mainly, if not exclusively, upon the hereditary depravity derived from our first parent. Such passages were easily to be found, and they are easily accounted for without assuming, contrary to the clearest evidence, that the direct imputation of Adam’s sin was either doubted or denied. Before Arius arose with the direct denial of the true divinity of Christ and of the doctrine of the Trinity, the language of ecclesiastical writers was confused and contradictory. In like manner, even in the Latin Church, and in the writings of Augustine himself, much may be found, before the rise of the Pelagian controversy, which it is hard to reconcile with the Augustinian system. Augustine was obliged to publish a volume of retractions, and in many cases where he had nothing to retract, he found much to modify and explain, It is not wonderful, therefore, that before anyone openly denied the doctrine 209of immediate imputation, and especially when the equally important doctrine of hereditary depravity was openly rejected by an influential party in the Romish Church, the Protestant theologians should apparently ignore a doctrine which no one denied, and devote their attention principally to the points which were then in controversy. Rivet, however, clearly shows that although not rendered prominent, the immediate imputation of Adam’s sin as universally assumed. This is plain from the fact that all the evil consequences of Adam’s apostasy, mortality, the loss of original righteousness, corruption of nature or spiritual death, etc., etc., were of the nature of punishment. What the Reformers were anxious to maintain was, that original hereditary depravity (concupiscence, in the language of the Latin Church) was of the nature of sin, and consequently that men do not perish eternally solely propter peccatum alienum, but also propter peccatum proprium. This was specially the case with Calvin. In the Confession of Faith which he drew up for the school in Geneva, it is said, “Singuli nascuntur originali peccato infecti . . . et a Deo damnati, non propter alienum delictum duntaxat, sed propter improbitatem, quæ intra eos est.” And elsewhere he says: “Dicimus Deum justo judicio nobis in Adamo maledixisse, ac voluisse nos ob illius peccatum corruptos nasci, ut in Christo instauremur.” Again: “Peccavit unus, omnes ad pœnam trahuntur, neque id modo, sed ex unius vitio, contagionem omnes contrahunt.” Again: “Si quæratur causa maledictionis, quæ incumbit omnibus posteris Adæ, dicitur esse alienum peccatum, et cujusque proprium.” To the same effect, Beza says:213213Apolog. pro Justificatione.Tria sunt quæ hominem reum constitunut coram Deo, (1.) Culpa promanans ex eo quod omnes peccavimus in proto lapso (Rom. v. 12). (2.) Corruptio quæ est pæna istius culpæ, impositam tam Adamo, quam posteris. (3.) Peccata quæ perpetrant homines adulti.214214See Turrettin, locus. ix. quæs. 9, and De Moor’s Commentarius in Johannis Marckin Compendium, caput XXV. § 32, vol. iii. 260 ff., where an extended account of this controversy may be found. Principal Cunningham215215The Reformers and the Theology of the Reformation, second edition, p. 383. calls attention to the fact that the doctrine of immediate imputation of Adam’s sin is much more explicitly stated in the Westminster Larger and Shorter Catechisms than in the Confession of Faith. This he very naturally accounts for by the supposition that the denial of that doctrine by Placæus had not attracted attention in England when the Confession was framed (1646), but did become known before the Catechisms were completed.


Objections to the Doctrine of Mediate Imputation.

The leading objections against the doctrine of mediate imputation are, —

1. That it denies what the Scriptures assert. The Scriptures assert that the sentence of condemnation has passed upon all men for the sin of one man. This the doctrine of mediate imputation denies, and affirms that the ground of that condemnation is inherent depravity. We are accounted partakers of Adam’s sin only because we derive a corrupt nature from him. According to the Scriptures, however, the reason why we are depraved is, that we are regarded as partakers of his sin, or because the guilt of that sin is imputed to us. The guilt in the order of nature and fact precedes the spiritual death which is its penal consequent.

2. This doctrine denies the penal character of the hereditary corruption in which all men are born. According to the Scriptures and to the faith of the church universal, mortality, the loss of original righteousness, and hereditary corruption are inflicted upon mankind in execution of the threatening made against Adam, and are included in the comprehensive word, death, by which the threatened penalty was expressed. This is as emphatically taught by President Edwards as by any other of the Reformed theologians. He devotes a section of his work to prove that the death mentioned in Genesis, and of which the Apostle speaks in Rom. v. 12, included spiritual death, and that the posterity of Adam were included in that penalty. He says: “The calamities which come upon them in consequence of his sin, are brought on them as punishments.”216216Original Sin, II. i; Works, vol. ii. p. 432. He moreover says, it destroys the whole scope of the Apostle’s argument “to suppose that the death of which he here speaks as coming on mankind by Adams sin, comes not as a punishment.”217217Ibid. II. iv. ut supra, p. 481. And again: “I do not suppose the natural depravity of the posterity of Adam is owing to the course of nature only; it is also owing to the just judgment of God.”218218Ibid. IV. ii. ut supra, p. 540. But punishment supposes guilt; if the loss of righteousness and the consequent corruption of nature are punishments, they suppose the antecedent imputation of guilt; and therefore imputation is immediate and not mediate; it is antecedent and not consequent to or upon inherent depravity. The view which the Reformed theologians uniformly present on this subject is, that God constituted Adam the head and representative of his race. The penalty attached to the covenant made with him, 211and which included his posterity, was the loss of the divine favour and fellowship. The consequences of the forfeiture of the divine favour in the case of Adam were, (1.) The loss of original righteousness; (2.) The consequent corruption of his whole nature; and, (3.) Exposure to eternal death. These consequences come on his posterity in the same order: first, the loss or rather destitution of original righteousness; and secondly, corruption of nature; and thirdly, exposure to eternal death; so that no child of Adam is exposed to eternal death irrespective of his own personal sinfulness and ill-desert. On this point Turrettin says: “Pœna quam peccatum Adami in nos accersit, vel est privativa, vel positiva. Prior est carentia et privatio justitiæ originalis; posterior est mors tum temporalis, tum æterna, et in genere mala omnia, quæ peccatoribus immittuntur. Etsi secunda necessario sequitur primam ex natura rei, nisi intercedat Dei misericordia, non debet tamen cum ea confundi. Quoad primam dicimus Adami peccatum nobis imputari immediate ad pœnam privativam, quia est causa privationis justitiæ originalis, et sic corruptionem antecedere debet saltem ordine naturæ; sed quoad posteriorem potest dici imputari mediate quoad pœnam positivam, quia isti pœnæ obnoxii non sumus, nisi postquam nati et corrupti sumus.219219Loc. IX. quæst. ix. 14, edit. Edinburgh, 1847, p. 558. Vogelsang220220Quoted by De Moor, Commentarius, vol. iii. p. 275. says: “Certe neminem sempiterna subire supplicia propter inobedientiam protoplasti, nisi mediante cognata perversitate.” And Mark221221Ibid. p. 278. says that if Placæus and others meant nothing more by mediate imputation than that “hominum natorum actualem punitionem ulteriorem non fieri nudo intuitur Adamicæ transgressionis absque interveniente etiam propria corruptione et fluentibus hinc sceleribus variis, neminem orthodoxum possent habere obloquentem.” But he adds, they obviously meant much more. They deny the imputation of the first sin of Adam as the cause of this inherent corruption. As Adam by his apostasy became subject to eternal death, but through the intervention of redeeming grace was doubtless saved from it, so also although all his posterity become liable to the same dreadful penalty through their own inherent corruption, yet we have every reason to believe and hope that no human being ever actually perishes who does not personally incur the penalty of the law by his actual transgression. This however is through the redemption of Christ. All who die in infancy are doubtless saved, but they are saved by grace. It is nevertheless important that the real views of the Reformed 212Churches, on the doctrine of immediate imputation, should be clearly understood. Those churches do not teach that the first sin of Adam is the single and immediate ground of the condemnation of his posterity to eternal death, but that it is the ground of their forfeiture of the divine favour from which flows the loss of original righteousness and corruption of our whole nature, which in their turn become the proximate ground of exposure to final perdition, from which, however, as almost all Protestants believe, all are saved who have no other sins to answer for.

Mediate Imputation increases the Difficulties to be accounted for.

3. It is a further objection to the doctrine of mediate imputation that it increases instead of relieving the difficulty of the case. It denies that a covenant was made with Adam. It denies that mankind ever had a probation. It assumes that in virtue of a natural law of propagation when Adam lost the image of God and became sinful, his children inherit his character, and on the ground of that character are subject to the wrath and curse of God. All the evils therefore which the Scriptural and Church doctrine represent as coming upon the posterity of Adam as the judicial punishment of his first sin, the doctrine of mediate imputation represents as sovereign inflictions, or mere natural consequences. What the Scriptures declare to be a righteous judgment, Placæus makes to be an arbitrary dispensation.

Inconsistent with the Apostle’s Argument in Rom. v. 12-21.

4. It is a still more serious objection that this doctrine destroys the parallel between Adam and Christ on which the Apostle lays so much stress in his Epistle to the Romans. The great point which he there labours to teach and to illustrate, and which he represents as a cardinal element of the method of salvation, is that men are justified for a righteousness which is not personally their own. To illustrate and confirm this great fundamental doctrine, he refers to the fact that men have been condemned for a sin which is not personally their own. He over and over insists that it was for the sin of Adam, and not for our own sin or sinfulness, that the sentence of death (the forfeiture of the divine favour) passed upon all men. It is on this ground he urges men the more confidently to rely upon the promise of justification on the ground a righteousness which is not inherently ours. This parallel destroyed, the doctrine and argument of the Apostle are overturned, if it be denied that the sin of Adam, as antecedent to any 213sin or sinfulness of our own is the ground of our condemnation. If we are partakers of the penal consequences of Adam’s sin only because of the corrupt nature derived by a law of nature from him, then we are justified only on the ground of our own inherent holiness derived by a law of grace from Christ. We have thus the doctrine of subjective justification, which overthrows the great doctrine of the Reformation, and the great ground of the peace and confidence of the people of God, namely, that a righteousness not within us but wrought out for us, — the righteousness of another, even the eternal Son of God, and therefore an infinitely meritorious righteousness, — is the ground of our justification before God. Any doctrine which tends to invalidate or to weaken the Scriptural evidence of this fundamental article of our faith is fraught with evil greater than belongs to it in itself considered. This is the reason why the Reformed theologians so strenuously opposed the doctrine of La Place. They saw and said that on his principles the doctrine of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness antecedent to our santification could not be defended.

The Doctrine founded on a False Principle.

5. Perhaps, however, the most serious objection against the doctrine of mediate imputation is drawn from the principle on which it rests, and the arguments of its advocates in its support. The great principle insisted upon in support of this doctrine is that one man cannot justly be punished for the sin of another. If this be so then it is unjust in God to visit the iniquities of the fathers upon their children. Then it was unjust in Christ to declare that the blood of the prophets slain from the beginning should come upon the men of his generation. Then it is unjust that the Jews of the present day, and ever since the crucifixion of our Lord, should be scattered and peeled, according to the predictions of the prophets, for the rejection of the Messiah. Then, also, were the deluge sent in wrath upon the world, and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the extermination of the Canaanites, in which thousands of children perished innocent of the offences for which those judgments were inflicted, all acts of stupendous injustice. If this principle be sound, then the administration of the divine government over the world, God’s dealings with nations and with the Church, admit of no defence. He has from the beginning and through all time held children responsible for the conduct of parents, included them without their consent in the covenants made with their fathers, and visited upon them the consequences 214of the violations of such covenants of which they were not personally guilty, as well as bestowed upon them rich blessings secured by the fidelity of their progenitors without anything meritorious on their part. Moreover, if the principle in question be valid, then the whole Scriptural doctrine of sacrifice and expiation is a delusion. And then, also, we must adopt the Socinian theory which makes the death of Christ instead of a penal satisfaction for sin, a mere symbolical inculcation of a truth — a didactic and not an expiatory service. The Reformed theologians of the seventeenth century expressed their deep regret that men professing orthodoxy should adopt from Pelagianis et Pelagianizantibus, against the doctrine of immediate imputation, “exceptiones” et “objectiones . . . . petitas a Dei justitia et veritate, ab actus et personæ Adamicæ singularitate, ex sceleris longe ante nos præterito tempore, ex posterum nulla scientia vel consensione in illud, ex non imputatis aliis omnibus factis et fatis Adami, etc.,” which had so often been answered in the controversies with the Socinians and Remonstrants.222222De Moor, Coommentarius in Johannis Marckii Compendium, vol. iii. p. 279. It is very clear that if no such constitution can be righteously established between men, even by God, that one man may justly bear the iniquity of another, then the Bible and Providence become alike unintelligible, and the great doctrines of the Christian faith are overthrown.

The Theory of Propagation.

The theory of those who deny all imputation of Adam’s sin to his posterity, whether mediate or immediate, and who account for the corruption of the race consequent on his apostasy, on the general law of propagation, that like begets like, differs only in terms from the doctrine of La Place. All he meant by mediate imputation was that the descendants of Adam, derived from him a corrupt nature, have the same moral character, and therefore are adjudged worthy of the same condemnation. This the advocates of the theory just mentioned are willing to admit. Their doctrine therefore is liable to all the objections which bear against the doctrine of mediate imputation, and therefore does not call forth a separate consideration.

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