The Imputation of Adam’s Sin – Part 3

Text: Romans 5:12-21

Introduction:  Anyone concerned about the problems of life” observed Martin Lloyd-Jones, “and the world as it is today, is confronted by two undeniable facts.  First there is the universality of sin. Of course all do not call it sin, but even so they have to admit and to confess this, that there is something which is spoiling and ruining life. The have to admit further, that mankind at large seems to prefer to do that which is wrong rather than that which is right; that if you tell a child not to do a thing, he will want to do it immediately and will, as often as not, proceed to do it. The man of the world admits this frequently without your asking him and says gratuitously, ‘Of course, I am not claiming that I am a perfect saint’. He is granting thereby the universality of sin. There is no such thing as a ‘perfect saint’. It is a fact that sin is universal. The second fact is the universality of death. ‘Every man who lives is born to die’, as the poet Dryden puts it. Think of a baby born five minutes ago. ‘Ah,’ you say, ‘there is someone at any rate who is beginning to live.’ But I have an equal right to say, ‘There is someone who is beginning to die’. The moment you come into this world you are beginning to go out of it. The moment you breathe for the first time it is only one of a series that is going to lead to the last. ‘It is appointed unto all men once to die,’ says the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews.

But the two facts raise the question, “How do you account for the universality of sin and the universality of death? Why are we all what we are by nature? Why this conduct, this misbehavior of which we are all guilty? And why do we all die? Why are those things universal?”[1] Paul traced the fall of man to the one act of Adam in the Garden of Eden, we learned in our last study. There, acting as our representative, Adam failed his probation, and as a result plunged the whole race, for whom he stood, into the guilt of sin. His sin was imputed to the race universally. Thus, Paul can say, “for all sinned” (Rom. 5:12; 1 Cor. 15:21-22). In fact, other things resulted. Not only was the first sin of Adam imputed to the race, but man has also inherited a corrupt nature, called by the older theologians PECCATUM ORIGINALIS, original sin.[2] In addition, he now has an inability to respond savingly to the Word of God (cf. Rom. 8:7-8; 1 Cor. 2:14), and eternal punishment is sure to come to him if there is no response to the gospel of Jesus Christ in faith. It is true to say, in the figurative sense of idiom, that man is now “under foreign domination.” There is another point that Paul makes in the section we are to study that is interesting, as well as important. Adam is said to be a type of Christ, that is, an illustration of our Lord. Of course, as one studies the section, it becomes evident that Adam is a type of Christ largely by contrast, at least here. There are some other ways in which the first Adam illustrates the Last Adam, if the total biblical picture is considered. That we shall do when we come to the matter later in this study. We turn again now to consider the imputation of Adam’s sin to his posterity and some of the things that arise from it. We pointed out that sin, condemnation, and death came from the first Adam, while righteousness, justification, and life come from the Last Adam. The master-thought of the section that begins with verse twelve of Romans chapter five and concludes with verse twenty-one is the unity of the many in the one. Adam and his posterity are affected by his sin; while the Last Adam and His people are affected by His righteous act, that is, the victorious redeeming work of the cross.[3]

I.          The Imputation of Sin and Death:

A.        A Resume of the Preceding Statement (cf Rom 5:12):  The apostle has made the point that all men sinned in Adam, and that this fact represents the entrance of sin and death into humanity. That entrance has resulted in the diffusion of sin and death universally among men. In seeking for an explanation of the statement, “for all have sinned,” the last clause of verse twelve, we considered the interpretations of the Pelagians, the supporter of the realistic union view, the mediate imputationists, and the federalists. We conclude that the truth probably rested with those who have espoused immediate federal imputation. By that view, Adam is the federal head of the race. Men are regarded as having stood their probation in him as their representative. His act was, therefore, deemed to be their act. He, the covenantal head of the race, fell, and in him the race fell. The fact that he was the head of the race is indicated by the fact the threats that were given him by God on the condition of his failure of the probation have been carried out on Adam and his posterity. All men, and not simply Adam, die. We realize that some might object to the representation of them by Adam. “Why should I be punished for an act that I did not personally do?” one might say. “Why should all die for the sin of one man?” Objections notwithstanding, it is clear that that is the teaching of Paul (cf. vv.13-19).

B.        The Reasonableness of Immediate Federal Imputation:  In our last study I suggested that the arrangement that God worked out for His dealing with men in sin and justification was an eminently wise one. It certainly is true to what we know of human life. An Edward VIII may abdicate his throne, and any ancestors that he might have had would have lost their right to the kingdom. A man may waste his estate, but his children cannot recover his losses. The national debt must be assumed by every citizen, although the individual personally had nothing to do with it. Nevertheless, from birth he is liable for it. As the ancient proverb testified, human life includes the principle of collective responsibility. “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge” (cf. Ezek. 18:2-3 [The time is coming when the proverb will no longer be used]). We noticed, too, that the other side is true. While Adam’s fall implicates us all, Christ’s victory and its results may be ours as a free gift, as well. There is a beautiful wisdom in the arrangement of covenantal headship, and I would like to outline it as I see it. My thoughts are largely from one of the South’s greatest theologians, Robert L. Dabney, who was for many years the Professor of Systematic Theology at Union Theological Seminary in Richmond,Virginia, and later a professor at the University of Texas, as well as a founder of Austin Theological Seminary. Dabney points out that there were only four plans possible, so far as he can see.

1.         The First Plan:  One plan was to be left under the natural relation to God that the first man and his wife had in the beginning, with man’s will confirmed against sin and with no probation. This, of course the Bible says plainly was not done, because man did sin. Why this plan was not chosen cannot be answered except through suggestions. How could God’s grace ever be manifested apart from the determination that sin exists in the race? Or, for that matter, how could His justice be demonstrated apart from sin and its punishment (Rom. 3:26)? But, at any rate, this plan was not followed (cf. Matt. 11:26).

2.         The Second Plan:  The second plan possible would be for men to be left under their natural relation to God, but without confirmation in holiness. Creatures, however, no matter how holy, are finite in their faculties and dispositions. Since perpetual obedience would be required of men, it would be inevitable that sooner or later all would fall. A holy God would have to punish sin on the spot, and all would ultimately be lost.[4]

3.         The Third Plan:  The third plan would involve a covenant of works for some limited time, say, 70 years. If   man gave perfect obedience for that length of time, then he would be given life as a reward for his work. This is the plan the Pelagians say prevails. But, let the experience of man tell us how it would work. Even the Pelagians admit that all fall by virtue of the evil examples that precede them. Even they cannot deny that the earth is full of misery and wickedness. Under this plan all fall. This plan is no more beneficial that the second.[5]

4.         The Fourth Plan:  The fourth plan is the one actually followed. It is the plan whereby Adam is constituted by God a representative under a covenant of works.[6] It is said by opponents of the beneficence of the plan, that all have died under it, too. Thus, it is on a par with the other plans. But it really is not. Under it God has graciously given man as favorable a situation as could be imagined, in harmony with leaving His creature changeable at all. “For, instead of having a risqué repeated millions of times, under circumstances increasingly untoward, only one risqué was permitted. And this was under the most favourable possible conditions. The probationer had no human bad company; he was in the maturity of his powers and knowledge, whereas his posterity would have had to begin their trial in their inexperienced boyhood. He had the noblest motives to stand, imaginable. Had the probation resulted favourably, so that we had all entered existence assured against sin and misery, and adopted heirs of eternal life, how should we have magnified the goodness of God in the dispensation? The grace bestowed through the first Adam, would have been only second in its glory, to that we now adore in the second!” It is clear from this that the plan of covenantal representation is a plan of great grace and mercy to men, the best of all conceivable plans. Added to that said by Dabney is the fact that the plan adopted is that which prepares for the covenantal representation of the Lord Jesus Christ for his people. The fact that we all fell in the first Adam through no fault of our own makes it understandable how we rise from our lost estate by the act of the Last Adam through no merit of our own. The beauty and harmony of the plan actually adopted by God causes the true believer to burst forth in grateful hallelujahs to the Author of such marvelous grace to lost sinners. The other side of condemnation has become true for us. We are justified in our Representative by His one act of obedience through sacrifice at Calvary.

C.        Implications of Immediate Federal Imputation:  Only this theological position can logically put forth the case for the salvation of children who die in infancy (or the salvation of children who die in infancy). How so? The great Reformed theologian B. B. Warfield, who wrote extensively about what the Bible had to say about children,[7] argues very effectively for the Reformed understanding, “that all who die in infancy are the children of God and enter at once into His glory—not because original sin alone is not deserving of eternal punishment (for all are born children of wrath), nor because they are less guilty than others (for relative innocence would merit only relatively light punishment, not freedom from all punishment), nor because they die in infancy (for that they die in infancy is not the cause but the effect of God’s mercy toward them), but simply because God in His infinite love has chosen them in Christ, before the foundation of the world, by a loving foreordination of them unto adoption as sons in Jesus Christ. Thus, as they hold, the Reformed theology has followed the light of the Word until its brightness has illuminated all its corners, and the darkness has fled away.”[8]

Warfield contends that the Arminian position (originally referred to as Remonstrantism) could not put forth a reasonable case for the salvation of infants due to their theological system. He writes, “Infants may have very little to be saved from, but their salvation from even it cannot be wrought by an atonement which only purchases for them the opportunity for salvation—an opportunity of which they cannot avail themselves, however much the natural power of free choice is uninjured by the fall, for the simple reason that they die infants; while God cannot be held to make them, without their free choice, partakers of this atonement without an admission of that sovereign discrimination among men which it was the very object of the whole Remonstrant theory to exclude…”

The theoretical postulation of original sin and natural inability, corrected by the gift to all men of a gracious ability on the basis of universal atonement in Christ, was a great advance. But it left the salvation of infants dying in infancy logically as unaccounted for as original Remonstrantism. EX HYPOTHESI, the universal atonement could bring to these infants HYPOTHESI, the universal atonement could bring to these infants only what it brought to all others, and this was something short of salvation—viz., an ability to improve the grace given alike to all. But infants, dying such, cannot improve grace; and therefore, it would seem, cannot be saved, unless we suppose a special gift to them over and above what is given to other men—a supposition subversive at once of the whole Arminian contention. The assertion of the salvation of all infants dying in infancy, although a specially dear tenet of Wesleyan Arminianism, remains, therefore, as with the earlier Remonstrants, unconformable to the system. The Arminian difficulty, indeed, lies one step further back; it does not make clear how any infant dying in infancy is to be saved.”[9]

Therefore, Warfield rightly reasons that only in the Reformed Covenantal system, where the grounds for justification is the imputation of Christ’s righteousness is there any hope for the salvation of infants. He concludes, “Is it the Scriptural answer? It is as legitimate and as logical an answer as any, on Reformed postulates. It is legitimate on no other postulates. If it be really conformable to the Word of God it will stand; and the third step in the development of the doctrine of infant salvation is already taken. But if it stands, it can stand on no other theological basis than the Reformed. If all infants dying in infancy are saved, it is certain that they are not saved by or through the ordinances of the visible Church (for they have not received them), nor through their own improvement of a grace common to all men (for they are incapable of activity); it can only be through the almighty operation of the Holy Spirit who worketh when and where and how He pleaseth, through whole ineffable grace the Father gathers these little ones to the home He has prepared for them.”[10]

Conclusion:  What was once the hallmark of historic Evangelicalism (sola fide) is now considered a matter of no great significance. N. T. Wright says that the Reformers’ understanding of justification, sola fide, was wrong, not only in terms of content, but in emphasis.[11] John Armstrong agrees with Wright,[12] as does Rick Lusk.[13] Norman Shepherd, likewise, rejects the Reformation’s emphasis on sola fide.[14] All of these men, despite their claim to be genuinely Reformed in their theology, jettison the threefold understanding of imputation that Reformed theology has maintained from its inception. Not surprising, the doctrine of the atonement is radically altered, especially in Wright’s scheme. Following Wright, Mark Baker, Joel Green, and Brian McLaren all tell us that the gospel is not atonement centered, especially in terms of penal-substitutionary-atonement.[15] Philip Everson has recently noted this sad decline and laments that in the minds of many professing Evangelicals there is a downright hostile attitude toward those who would seek to maintain this Reformational distinctive. “As long as there is a love for the Lord Jesus Christ, a concern to make Christ known to others, and a desire to meet together in fellowship, what is the value of drawing attention to bygone wars of religion, to arguments over doctrine, many of which seem to have been caused through a misunderstanding about words? It has been suggested that evangelicals and Roman Catholics should bury the hatchet and work together for the common good in the face of secularism, paganism and militant Islam. Both groups are apparently in agreement in affirming their acceptance of justification by faith. But is it really the case that Roman Catholics agree with Protestants, especially those of evangelical persuasion, on this item of faith which has for centuries kept them apart?”[16]

Martin Luther clearly saw what was at stake here. He described how he came to understand God’s justifying righteousness in this way, “I greatly longed to understand Paul’s Epistle to the Romans and nothing stood in my way but that one expression, ‘the justice (righteousness) of God,’ because I took it to mean that justice was that, although an impeccable monk, I stood before God as a sinner troubled in conscience, and I had no confidence that my merit would assuage him. Therefore I did not love a just and angry God, but rather hated and murmured against him. Yet I clung to the dear Paul and had a great yearning to know what he meant. Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement that ‘the just shall live by his faith.’ Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas before ‘the justice of God’ had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love. This passage of Paul became to me a gate of heaven…”[17]



[1] D. M. Lloyd-Jones, Romans: An Exposition of Chapter 5 Assurance (Zondervan, 1971) p.190.


[2] Original sin is not a substance or a positive attribute, but a defect in human nature caused by the fall and consisting in the loss and consequent absence of original righteousness, iustitia originalis and of the imago Dei. This peccatum originalis is (1) the culpa haereditaria, or hereditary guilt, which is imputed to all mankind because of the sin and guilt of Adam—in Reformed theology this imputation rests on the federal headship of Adam. It is also (2) the corruption haereditaria, or hereditary corruption, which, because of the guilt and corruption of Adam and Eve, is transmitted to all their descendants by generation. Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms (Baker, 1985) p. 221. Indeed the sin of Adam, properly speaking, is a transgression (prevaricatio) and a violation (transgressio), but original sin is not a transgression (prevaricatio) but only “sin” (peccatum) and the guilt (reatus) of his (Adam’s) transgression. Just as the righteousness of the saints is not the fulfilling of the Law by them but only the sharing of Christ’s fulfillment, which He Himself has accomplished. Cf. Luther’s Works: Lectures on Romans vol. 25 ed. H. C. Oswald (Concordia, 1972), P. 46.


[3] The substance of this analysis is again taken from S. Lewis Johnson, my former prof. of Theology cf. his article

“Romans 5:12 – An Exercise in Exegesis and Theology” New Dimensions in New Testament Study (Zondervan, 1974) pp. 298-316.


[4] R. L. Dabney, Lectures in Systematic Theology (rpt. Zondervan, 1972) p. 336.


[5] Ibid. p. 337.


[6] Robert Reymond, like Meredith Kline, underscores the foundational importance of the covenant of works and it’s relationship to the active obedience of Christ, “But a rejection of the full meritoriousness of the work of Christ has devastating implications for the doctrine of justification through the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to believers; for if Christ’s obedience has no meritorious value, neither has a penal satisfaction been made for our sins nor is there a perceptive righteousness available to be imputed to us.” A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (Nelson, 1998), p. 432.


[7] Cf. his articles, “Children,” “Christ’s Little Ones,” and “The Angels of Christ’s Little Ones” in Selected Shorter Writings of Benjamin B. Warfield I (P&R, 1970).


[8] “The Development of The Doctrine of Infant Salvation” in The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield IX (rpt. Baker, 1981), p. 438.


[9] Ibid. p. 439, 441.


[10] Ibid. p. 444.


[11] N. T. Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said (Eerdmans, 1997), p. 115.


[12] John Armstrong, Reformation & Revival Journal: Justification: Modern Reflections (vol. II, No. 2, Spring 2002).


[13] Rick Lusk, in The Auburn Avenue Theology Pros & Cons: Debating The Federal Vision ed. C. Beisner (Knox Seminary, 2004), pp. 118-148.


[14] Cf. Norman Shepherd’s two chapters in The Backbone of The Bible ed. P. A. Sandlin (CMP, 2004).


[15] Baker and Green in their book, Recovering The Scandal of the Cross: Atonement in New Testament and Contemporary Contexts (IVP, 2000). Their hostility towards the doctrine of penal-substitution is matched only by their loathing of the Reformed understanding of the wrath of God. Brian McLaren, the architect of what is known as the “emergent church” (the latest wave in the church-growth-seeker-sensitive approach), unabashedly says the gospel is not primarily about salvation from sin and judgment—and certainly not what the Reformation claimed—rather McLaren, following in the line of theological liberals in the early decades of the 20th cent. thinks the gospel is chiefly about social and political justice here and now. Thus the gospel, according to him, is about an earthly Kingdom of God. Cf. his “A Radical Rethinking of Our Evangelistic Strategy” in Theology: News & Notes (Fuller Theological Seminary Fall, 2004).


[16] Everson, p. 10.


[17] Cf. Roland Bainton, Here I Stand” A Life of Martin Luther (Abingdon, 1951), p. 50.

365 Days With Calvin

Selected and edited by Dr. Joel R. Beeke

John Calvin exercised a profound ministry in Europe, and is probably one of the most seminal thinkers ever to have lived. A godly pastor, theologian and preacher, he led his flock by example and worked hard to establish consistent godliness in his city. A prolific writer, his sermons, letters, and, of course, his Christian Institutes have been published again and again. His writingsonce described as flowing proseare characterized by clarity, simplicity, and yet profoundness, too. In these heart-warming pieces, drawn from his commentaries and sermons, Calvin brings us to Christ, the glorious Savior of all his people.

Author/Compiler Dr. Joel R. Beeke is president and professor of systematic theology and homiletics at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, and a pastor of the Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregation in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He has written or edited fifty books, and contributed hundreds of articles to Reformed books, journals, periodicals, and encyclopedias. His Ph.D. is in Reformation and Post-Reformation theology from Westminster Theological Seminary. He is frequently called upon to lecture at seminaries and to speak at Reformed conferences around the world. He and his wife, Mary, have been blessed with three children: Calvin, Esther, and Lydia.


“Daily devotionalsspiritual aids to help us be accountable for a life of disciplined reading of Scripture and prayerhave been around for centuries and need a certain caliber of excellence and insight if they are to prove of lasting value through 365 days! Of those Id like to spend a year with as my spiritual guide and mentor, John Calvin is most certainly one of them. Joel Beeke guides us through the Reformers writings to help us discover the help and insight that every Christian needs to live a God-honoring life for Jesus Christ.” Derek W. H. Thomas, John E. Richards Professor of Theology, Reformed Theological Seminary, Minister of Teaching, First Presbyterian Church, Jackson, MS, Editorial Director, Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals

Hardback; 416 pages

Continue Reading on