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ESSAY

ON THE

IMPUTATION OF THE SIN OF ADAM

ROMANS V.

THAT so many opposite systems of Theology seek their authority in Scripture is a fair proof that Scripture is different from them all. That is to say, Scripture often contains in germ what is capable of being drawn to either side; it is indistinct, where they are distinct; it presents two lights, where they present only one; it speaks inwardly, while they clothe themselves in the forms of human knowledge. That indistinct, intermediate, inward point of view at which the truth exists but in germ, they have on both sides tended to extinguish and suppress. Passing allusions, figures of speech, rhetorical oppositions, have been made the foundation of doctrinal statements, which are like a part of the human mind itself, and seem as if they could never be uprooted, without uprooting the very sentiment of religion. Systems of this kind exercise a constraining power, which makes it difficult for us to see anything in Scripture but themselves.

For example, how slender is the foundation in the New Testament for the doctrine of Adam’s sin being imputed to his posterity—two passages in St. Paul at most, and these of uncertain interpretation. The little cloud, no bigger than a man’s hand, has covered the heavens. To reduce such 309subjects to their proper proportions, we should consider:—first, what space they occupy in Scripture; secondly, how far the language used respecting them is literal or figurative; thirdly, whether they agree with the more general truths of Scripture and our moral sense, or are not ‘rather repugnant thereto;’ fourthly, whether their origin may not be prior to Christianity, or traceable in the after history of the Church; fifthly, whether the words of Scripture may not be confused with logical inferences which are appended to them; sixthly, in the case of this and of some other doctrines, whether even poetry has not lent its aid to stamp them in our minds in a more definite and therefore different form from that in which the Apostles taught them; lastly, how far in our own day they are anything more than words.

The two passages alluded to are Rom. v. 12-21; 1 Cor. xv. 21, 22; 45-49, in both of which parallels are drawn between Adam and Christ. In both the sin of Adam is spoken of, or seems to be spoken of, as the source of death to man: ‘As by one man’s transgression sin entered into the world, and death by sin,’ and ‘As in Adam all die.’ Such words appear plain at first sight; that is to say, we find in them what we bring to them: let us see what considerations modify their meaning. If we accept the Pelagian view of the passage, which refers the death of each man to actual sin, there is an end of the controversy. But it does not equally follow that, if what is termed the received interpretation is given to the words, the doctrine which it has been attempted to ground upon them would have any real foundation.

We will suppose, then, that no reference is contained in either passage to ‘actual sin.’ In some other sense than this mankind are identified with Adam’s transgression. But the question still remains, whether Adam’s sin and death are merely the type of the sin and death of his posterity, or, more than this, the cause. The first explanation quite satisfies the meaning of the words, ‘As in Adam 310all die;’ the second seems to be required by the parallel passage in the Romans: ‘As by one man sin came into the world,’ and ‘As by one man many were made sinners,’ if taken literally.

The question involves the more general one, whether the use of language by St. Paul makes it necessary that we should take his words literally in this passage. Is he speaking of Adam’s sin being the cause of sin and death to his posterity, in any other sense than he spoke of Abraham being a father of circumcision to the uncircumcised? (chap. iv.) Yet no one has ever thought of basing a doctrine on these words. Or is he speaking of all men dying in Adam in any other sense than he says in 2 Cor. v. 15, that if one died for all, then all died? Yet in this latter passage, while Christ died literally, it was only in a figure that all died. May he be arguing in the same way as when he infers from the word ‘seed’ being used in the singular, that ‘thy seed is Christ’? Or, if we confine ourselves to the passage under consideration—Is the righteousness of Christ there imputed to believers, independently of their own inward holiness? and if so, should the sin of Adam be imputed independently of the actual sins of men?

I. A very slight difference in the mode of expression would make it impossible for us to attribute to St. Paul the doctrine of the imputation of the sin of Adam. But we have seen before how varied, and how different from our own, are his modes of thought and language. Compare i. 4; iv. 25. To him, it was but a slight transition, from the identification of Adam with the sins of all mankind, to the representation of the sin of Adam as the cause of those sins. To us, there is the greatest difference between the two statements. To him, it was one among many figures of the same kind, to oppose the first and second Adam, as elsewhere he opposes the old and new man. With us, this figure has been singled out to be made the foundation of a most exact statement of doctrine. We do not remark 311that there is not even the appearance of attributing Adam’s sin to his posterity, in any part of the Apostle’s writings in which he is not drawing a parallel between Adam and Christ.

II. The Apostle is not speaking of Adam as fallen from a state of innocence. He could scarcely have said, ‘The first man is of the earth, earthy,’ if he had had in his mind that Adam had previously existed in a pure and perfect state. He is only drawing a parallel between Adam and Christ. The moment we leave this parallel, all is uncertain and undetermined. What was the nature of that innocent life? or of the act of Adam which forfeited it? and how was the effect of that act communicated to his posterity? The minds of men in different ages of the world have strayed into these and similar inquiries. Difficulties about ‘fate, predestination, and free-will’ (not food for angels’ thoughts) cross our path in the garden of Eden itself. But neither the Old or New Testament give any answer to them. Imagination has possessed itself of the vacant spot, and been busy, as it often is, in proportion to the slenderness of knowledge.

III. There are other elements of St. Paul’s teaching, which are either inconsistent with the imputation of Adam’s sin to his posterity, or at any rate are so prominent as to make such a doctrine if held by him comparatively unimportant. According to St. Paul, it is not the act of Adam, but the law that

‘Brought sin into the world and all our woe.’

And the law is almost equivalent to ‘the knowledge of sin.’ But original sin is, or may be, wholly unconscious—the fault of nature in the infant equally with the man. Not so the sin of which St. Paul speaks, which is inseparable from consciousness, as he says himself: ‘I was alive without the law once,’ that is, before I came to the consciousness of sin.

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IV. It will be admitted that we ought to feel still greater reluctance to press the statement of the Apostle to its strict logical consequences, if we find that the language which he here uses is that of his age and country. Prom the circumstance of our first reading the doctrine of the imputation of Adam’s sin to his posterity in the Epistles of St. Paul, we can hardly persuade ourselves that this is not its original source. The incidental manner in which it is alluded to might indeed lead us to suppose that it would scarcely have been intelligible, had it not been also an opinion of his time. But if this inference should seem doubtful, there is direct evidence to show that the Jews connected sin and death, and the sins and death of mankind, with the sin of Adam, in the same way as the Apostle. The earliest trace of such a doctrine is found in the apocryphal Book of Wisdom, ii. 24: ‘But God created man to be immortal, and made him to be an image of his own eternity. Nevertheless, through envy of the devil came death into the world; and they that do hold of his side do find it.’ And Eccles. xxv. 24: ‘Of the woman came the beginning of sin, and through her we all die.’ It was a further refinement of some of their teachers, that when Adam sinned the whole world sinned; because, at that time, Adam was the whole world, or because the soul of Adam comprehended the souls of all, so that Adam’s sin conveyed a hereditary taint to his posterity. It was a confusion of a half physical, half logical or metaphysical notion, arising in the minds of men who had not yet learnt the lesson of our Saviour—‘That which is from without defileth not a man.’ That human nature or philosophy sometimes rose up against such inventions is certainly true; but it seems to be on the whole admitted, that the doctrine of Augustine is in substance generally agreed to by the Rabbis, and that there is no trace of their having derived it from the writings of St. Paul. Compare the passages quoted in Fritzsche, vol. i. pp. 293-296, and Schoettgen.

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But not only is the connexion of sin and death with each other, and with the sin of Adam, found in the Rabbinical writings; the type and antitype of the first and second Adam are also contained in them. In reading the first chapters of Genesis, the Jews made a distinction between the higher Adam, who was the light of the world, and had control over all things, who was mystically referred to where it is said, ‘they two shall be one flesh;’ and the inferior Adam, who was Lord only of the creation; who had ‘the breath of life,’ but not ‘the living soul.’ (Schoettgen, i. 512-514, 670-673.) By some, indeed, the latter seems to have been identified with the Messiah. By Philo, on the other hand, the λόγος is identified with the πρῶτος Ἀδάμ, who is without sex, while the ἄνθρωπος χοικός is created afterwards by the help of the angels (De Creat. Mund. p. 30). It is not the object of this statement to reconcile these variations, but merely to indicate, first, that the idea of a first and second Adam was familiar to the Jews in the time of St. Paul, and that one or other of them was regarded by them as the Word and the Messiah.

V. A slighter, though not less real foundation of the doctrine has been what may be termed the logical symmetry of the imputation of the righteousness of Christ and of the sin of Adam. The latter half is the correlative of the former; they mutually support each other. We place the first and second Adam in juxtaposition, and seem to see a fitness or reason in the one standing in the same relation to the fallen as the other to the saved.

VI. It is hardly necessary to ask the further question, what meaning we can attach to the imputation of sin and guilt which are not our own, and of which we are unconscious. God can never see us other than we really are, or judge us without reference to all our circumstances and antecedents. If we can hardly suppose that He would allow a fiction of mercy to be interposed between ourselves and Him, still less can we imagine that He would interpose 314a fiction of vengeance. If He requires holiness before He will save, much more, may we say in the Apostle’s form of speech, will He require sin before He dooms us to perdition. Nor can anything be in spirit more contrary to the living consciousness of sin of which the Apostle everywhere speaks, than the conception of sin as dead unconscious evil, originating in the act of an individual man, in the world before the flood.

VII. A small part of the train of consequences which have been drawn out by divines can be made to hang even upon the letter of the Apostle’s words, though we should not take into account the general temper and spirit of his writings. Logical inferences often help to fill up the aching void in our knowledge of the spiritual world. They seem necessary; in time they receive a new support from habit and tradition. They hide away and conceal the nature of the original premisses. They may be likened to the superstructure of a building which the foundation has not strength to bear; or, rather, perhaps, when compared to the serious efforts of human thought, to the plaything of the child who places one brick upon another in wondering suspense, until the whole totters and falls, or his childish fancy pleases itself with throwing it down. So, to apply these remarks to our present subject, we are contented to repeat the simple words of the Apostle, ‘As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.’ Perhaps we may not be able to recall all the associations which they conveyed to his mind. But neither are we willing to affirm his meaning to be that the sin of one man was the cause of other men’s sins, or that God condemned one part of the human race for a fault not their own, because He was going to save another part; or that original sin, as some say, or the guilt of original sin, as is the opinion of others, is washed away in baptism. There is a terrible explicitness in such language touching the realities of a future life which makes us shrink from trusting our own faculties amid far-off deductions like these. 315We feel that we are undermining, not strengthening, the foundations of the Gospel. We fear to take upon ourselves a burden which neither ‘we nor our fathers are able to bear.’ Instead of receiving such statements only to explain them away, or keep them out of sight, it is better to answer boldly in the words of the Apostle, ‘God forbid! for how shall God judge the world.’

On the whole, then, we are led to infer that in the Augustinian interpretation of this passage, even if it agree with the letter of the text, too little regard has been paid to the extent to which St. Paul uses figurative language, and to the manner of his age in interpretations of the Old Testament. The difficulty of supposing him to be allegorizing the narrative of Genesis is slight, in comparison with the difficulty of supposing him to countenance a doctrine at variance with our first notions of the moral nature of God.

But when the figure is dropped, and allowance is made for the manner of the age, the question once more returns upon us—‘What is the Apostle’s meaning?’ He is arguing, we see, κατ᾽ ἄνθρωπον, and taking his stand on the received opinions of his time. Do we imagine that his object is no other than to set the seal of his authority on these traditional beliefs? The whole analogy, not merely of the writings of St. Paul, but of the entire New Testament, would lead us to suppose that his object was not to reassert them, but to teach, through them, a new and nobler lesson. The Jewish Rabbis would have spoken of the first and second Adam; but which of them would have made the application of the figure to all mankind? Which of them would have breathed the quickening Spirit into the dry bones? The figure of the Apostle bears the impress of his own age and country; the interpretation of the figure is for every age, and for the whole world. A figure of speech it remains still, an allegory after the manner of that age and country, but yet with no uncertain or ambiguous signification. It means that ‘God 316hath made of one blood all the nations of the earth;’ and that ‘he hath concluded all under sin, that he may have mercy upon all.’ It means a truth deep yet simple—the fact which we recognize in ourselves and trace everywhere around us—that we are one in a common evil nature, which, if it be not derived from the sin of Adam, exists as really as if it were. It means that we shall be made one in Christ, by the grace of God, in a measure here, more fully and perfectly in another world. It means that Christ is the natural head of the human race, the author of its spiritual life. It shows Him to us as He enters within the veil, in form as a man, the ‘first fruits of them which sleep.’ It is a sign or intimation which guides our thoughts in another direction also, beyond the world of which religion speaks, to observe what science tells us of the interdependence of soul and body—what history tells of the chain of lives and events. It leads us to reflect on ourselves not as isolated, independent beings;—not such as we appear to be to our own narrow consciousness; but as we truly are—the creatures of antecedents which we can never know, fashioned by circumstances over which we have no control. The infant, coming into existence in a wonderful manner, inherits something, not from its parents only, but from the first beginning of the human race. He too is born into a family of which God in Christ is the Father. There is enough here to meditate upon—‘a mystery since the world was’—without the ‘weak and beggarly’ elements of Rabbinical lore. We may not encumber St. Paul ‘with the things which he destroyed.’

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