The immediate effects of Adam’s sin, as indicated in the narrative in Genesis, were (1) shame, or fear of God’s presence, and (2) making excuse for his sin and casting the blame upon the woman and his maker. Gen. 3:7-13.
The immediate curse uttered against the woman was (1) danger to her and her seed from the serpent and his seed, (2) multiplied pain and sorrow in childbirth, and (3) a condition of subservience to her husband. Gen. 3:15-16.
That against the man was (1) that thorns and thistles should hinder the cultivation of the ground, (2) that by hard labour in the sweat of his face should he eat his bread, and (3) a positive declaration of the return of the man to the dust whence he had been taken. Gen. 3:17-19.
The evils thus threatened have not been confined to Adam and Eve, but have fallen also upon all their posterity. Whatever may be the connection between Adam and that posterity, it is generally admitted that the latter share with him all these evils.
In seeking then into the effects of Adam’s sin we shall find them in connection with the evil condition of his posterity, as well as of himself.
The curses uttered in the garden are not to be taken as exhaustive of the curse threatened. They are such only as were immediately suggested by the peculiar attendant circumstances of Adam’s sin, and are to be regarded merely as examples of its evil effects. Still even they have not been confined to Adam, but have come equally upon the race at large.
All the evil effects of Adam’s sin are comprised under the one word “death.” This was the threatened penalty. But what is meant by it?
I. Natural death is included. By this is meant the separation of the soul and the body, and the consequent decay of the body.
1. It has been objected that this is not a result of Adam’s sin because the very nature of the body (dust) made it necessary that it should return to dust.
To this it may be replied:
(1) That it is not certain that there were in man’s body before his sin any elements of decay which would naturally lead to separation from the soul and to corruption.
(2) But even if we admit that the body is naturally mortal and liable to corruption, it does not follow that had man not sinned, he would have died. God might have continued forever to preserve his powers unimpaired, either by direct preservation or by some remedial means. Some think, not without reason that this would have been done through the tree of life.
(3) The objection overlooks the fact that, from the nature of God’s foreknowledge and purpose, things in themselves natural are made the punishments of others with which they are associated. In like manner also is it with his blessings. The whole narrative of the fall is full of examples of this principle. Of this kind is the serpent’s curse, “upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life,” Gen. 3:14; of this also that connected with the natural injuries which men and serpents would inflict on each other, Gen. 3:15; that of the rule of the husband over the wife, Gen. 3:17; and that of the thorns and thistles in the ground and the sweat and the labour for the means of life, Gen. 3:18, 19.
2. A second objection against regarding natural death as part of the penalty is that the threatened penalty was a death which should occur on the very day the fruit should be eaten.
(1) This might be an objection if it were claimed that the penalty of natural death was the only penalty, or if it could be shown that the death thus threatened was so exclusive as to forbid that natural death should be in any way associated with it.
(2) It is even doubtful whether the corrupt tendency to death and its beginnings may not be ascribed to the very hour of Adam’s sin. If that sin removed all hope of God’s counteracting the natural mortality, this would be so; whether it was to be counteracted, as Lange quotes Knobel as supposing [Comm. on Genesis, p. 239], “through the tree of life,” or by some other means. It would also be true if, as Lange thinks, the threatened penalty, “death, here corresponding to the biblical conception of death, must be taken primarily to mean moral death, which goes out of the soul or heart, and, through the soul-life, gradually fastens itself upon the physical organism.” Comm. on Gen., p. 207. Under such circumstances the moral death would be the eventual cause of the physical death, and to the latter would be assigned the same time of beginning with the former. This might also be done, even if the gradual decay were a mere accompaniment of the moral death without being actually caused by it.
In favour of the idea that natural death is included in the penalty, there is:
1. The probability that while spiritual death does come upon man, the outward event, the name of which is used to express this evil result in the soul, would itself also constitute a part of that which is indicated by its name.
Hence it is that to one who does not carefully study the Scripture statements, the most obvious idea is that the death threatened was chiefly natural death.
2. This probability is rendered certain by the specific curse uttered in the garden after the transgression: “Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” Gen. 3:19.
3. It is confirmed by other passages of Scripture. Lange, Gen., p. 239, thinks that the teaching of the 90th Psalm is undoubtedly that death belongs solely to the punishment of sin. But whether so, or not, it is unquestionably the teaching of Romans 5:12-14; also of 1 Cor. 15:21, 22, 55, 56. [See some valuable remarks on this point in Edwards’ Works, vol. 2, p. 373.]
II. Spiritual death was also an effect of Adam’s sin. Our inquiry into natural death as a penalty leads us to look for some other and higher evil as resulting from sin. It must be something which occurred at the very time of eating, which affected that part of man that was naturally immortal, and which was also connected with that part with which conscious personality is inseparably associated.
1. It must therefore be the death of the soul.
The Scriptures present this in several aspects, showing it in each case not only by statements of what it is, but by contrasting it with the life of the soul. It is presented as (1) Alienation from God. (2) Loss of God’s favour. (3) Loss of acceptance with him.
That this death has come upon mankind is evident from the fact that the Scriptures speak of man in his fallen state as being “without God in the world,” Eph. 2:12; as “alienated from the life of God,” Eph. 4:18. It says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” Rom. 3:23. Also that “the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth,” Ps. 11:5. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all unrighteousness and ungodliness of men,” Rom. 1:18. It is not only said that “he that believeth not hath been judged already,” but that “the wrath of God abideth on him.” John 3:18, 36.
It is also evident from the work of Christ, which was to reconcile man to God, and to propitiate his good will. Hence Christ speaks of himself as giving living water. We are said to live in Christ.
2. This spiritual death was not only the death of the soul,—as seen in the various aspects of alienation, loss of God’s favour and of acceptance with him, referred to above,—but it also consisted in a corrupt nature. The Scripture statements as to this corruption show:
(1) Its universal extent. It is found in every man. “There is no man that sinneth not,” 1 Kings 8:46. “There is none that doeth good,” Ps. 14:1; and this is emphasized in v.3 by adding “no, not one.” See also Rom. 3:10 and the argument of the context. Also Ps. 53:1-3; 130:3; Prov. 20:9; Ecc. 7:20; Isa. 53:6; 64:6; Rom. 3:23; 5:12, 14; Gal. 3:22; 1 John 1:8-10; 5:19.
To the above passages might be added arguments for the universal existence of sin from the declared necessity of regeneration in each man; from the direction to preach the gospel to every creature; and the assertion that there is no salvation for any man except in the name of Christ.
(2) Its early appearance in man’s life is another proof that corruption is the effect of Adam’s sin. Certain passages of Scripture are supposed to refer to young children as though innocent of guilt. These are such as Matt. 19:13-15; Mark 10:13-16; and Luke 18:15-17, “Of such is the kingdom of God.” Also Matt. 18:3: “Except ye turn and become as little children.” Also 1 Cor. 14:20: “Be not children in mind: howbeit in malice be ye babes, but in mind be men.” [See Gill’s Body of Divinity, I., 474.]
But these passages do not teach freedom from corruption. On the other hand, corruption in early infancy is plainly taught. “The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies,” Ps. 58:3. “Behold I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me,” Ps. 51:5. “Foolishness (wickedness) is bound up in the heart of a child,” Prov. 22:15.
(3) The fact of this corruption. Before the flood it is said: “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually,” Gen. 6:5. “Every one of them is gone back; they are altogether become filthy,” Ps. 53:3; see also Ecc. 8:11; Matt. 15:19; Rom. 1st chapter at length, as to the heathen, in connection with Paul’s question, Rom. 3:9. Similar descriptions appear in Isa. 59:3-14; in Gal. 5:19-21; Titus 3:3; 2 Pet. 2:13-18.
(4) This corruption extends to every affection of the heart and mind. Mr. Goodwin, in the Lime Street Lectures, p. 128, says: “The soul is corrupted with all its faculties; the mind with darkness and ignorance, Eph. 5:3; being subject to the sensitive part,
and strongly prejudiced against the things of God, 1 Cor. 4:24 [sic]; the conscience with stupidity and insensibleness, Titus 1:15; the will with stubbornness and rebellion, Rom. 8:7; the affections are become carnal and placed either upon unlawful objects, or upon lawful in an unlawful manner or degree, Col. 3:2; the thoughts and imaginations are full of pride, and vanity, and disorder, Gen. 6:5. And as for the body, that is become a clog, instead of being serviceable to the soul, and all its members and senses instruments of unrighteousness to sin, Rom. 7:19. It is, I say, in general a universal depravation of every part in man since the fall; and more particularly it consists in a privation of all good, in an enmity to God and the things of God, and in a propensity to all evil.” See also Hodge, vol. 2, p. 255, and Gill’s Divinity, vol. 1, p. 474. [Better proof texts than those referred to in the above quotation are Eph. 4:18 and Rom. 1:21 instead of Eph. 5:3; and Rom. 6:12; 7:24 and 8:5-7 instead of 1 Cor. 4:24 [sic].]
(5) This corruption has not been equally developed in all. The doctrine of total depravity does not mean such equal development. The Scriptures recognize degrees of wickedness as well as of hardening of the heart, and even blinding of the minds of some. But they also represent that the lack of this development is due to differing circumstances and restraints by which some men are providentially surrounded.
(6) This corruption does not destroy accountability or responsibility for present sins.
(a) The Scriptures universally recognize man’s liability to punishment for all the thoughts of his mind, and the desires of his heart or the emotions of his physical nature, as well as for his acts. These are characterized by more or less of heinousness according to their nature and the circumstances under which they are committed. The more intense the corruption, the more guilty is the man regarded.
(b) The conscience of mankind approves these teachings of Scripture. We do not excuse men because of any state of moral corruption. The evidence of this is seen in the immediate difference which is made whenever physical compulsion or physical disease (insanity) leads to an act which otherwise would be regarded as sinful and blameworthy.
(7) This corruption does not destroy the freedom of the will. This is the ground upon which men are held responsible by God and by human law and conscience. The condition of man is indeed such “that he cannot not sin,” but this is due to his nature, which loves sin and hates holiness, and which prefers self to God. When man sins, he does so of his own choice, freely, without compulsion.
(8) “The inability which is thus admitted,” says Dr. Hodge, “is asserted only in reference to the things of the spirit.” It is asserted in all the confession above quoted (he has been quoting various Protestant confessions) that man since the fall has not only the liberty of choice or power of self-determination, but also is able to perform moral acts, good as well as evil. He can be kind and just, and fulfil his social duties in a manner to secure the approbation of his fellow-men. It is not meant that the states of mind in which these acts are performed, or the motives by which they are determined, are such as to meet the approbation of an infinitely holy God, but simply that these acts, as to the matter of them, are prescribed by moral law.
“Theologians, as we have seen, designate the class of acts as to which fallen man retains his ability, as ‘justitia civilis,’ ‘things external.’ And the class as to which his inability is asserted is designated as ‘the things of God,’ ‘the things of the Spirit,’ ‘things connected with salvation.’ The difference between these two classes of acts, although it may not be easy to state it in words, is universally recognized. There is an obvious difference between morality and religion; and between those religious affections of reverence and gratitude which all men more or less experience, and true piety. The difference lies in the state of mind, the motives, and the apprehension of the objects of these affections. It is the difference between holiness and mere natural feeling. What the Bible and all the Confessions of the churches of the Reformation assert is, that man, since the fall, cannot change his own heart; he cannot regenerate his soul; he cannot repent with godly sorrow or exercise that faith which is unto salvation. He cannot, in short, put forth any holy exercise, or perform any act in such a way as to merit the approbation of God. Sin cleaves to all he does, and from this dominion of sin he cannot free himself.” [Hodge’s Syst. Theol., vol. 2, pp. 263-4.]
(9) This total corruption does not involve equality of sinfulness in all men. On the contrary, sin is increased by cherishing sinful thoughts; by indulgence in sinful habits; by throwing off the restraints of society; and is affected by circumstances of birth, education, &c. It is also true that by natural inheritance some are more prone to sin than others.
III. Eternal death is also the consequence of Adam’s sin.
1. Without any actual sentence to eternal death, it would follow that the present alienated and corrupted condition of mankind would be forever.
(a) Condemnation can only be removed by proof of innocence; by legal justification; or by voluntary pardon. But the justice of God forbids him to pardon sin without atonement. By the deeds of the law can no man be justified; and, above all, innocence can never be proved. Hence the Scriptures represent all men, not pardoned and justified through Christ, as condemned to everlasting death.
(b) Corruption can only be removed by a cleansing of human nature sufficient to root out all taint of sin and to restore a holy disposition and habits. This is the work of the Holy Spirit in the people of Christ. All not thus sanctified by him are left forever corrupt. The Scriptures show such to be man’s condition that he cannot cleanse himself.
Dr. Dagg says: “The Scripture representations of men’s inability are exceedingly strong. They are said to be without strength, captives, in bondage, asleep, dead, &c. The act, by which they are delivered from their natural state, is called regeneration, quickening, or giving life, renewing, resurrection, translation, creation; and it is directly ascribed to the power of God, the power that called light out of darkness, and raised up Christ from the dead.” [Dagg’s Manual of Theology, p. 171.]
The following Scriptures distinctly assert this corruption and inability: “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good that are accustomed to do evil.” Jer. 13:23. So also John 1:13; 3:3; Rom. 5:6; 7:5, 21; 8:3; 9:16 and Eph. 2:1 ,5. Such being the condition of man, it is seen to be impossible for him to be delivered by his own acts, even if he had the will to perform them. But for God’s action there would be no deliverance, even if man had the will to deliver himself.
(c) But men have not the will to be released. This is evidenced by the statements of Scripture about their love of sin, and the delight they take therein, as specially leading to the rejection of the gospel. John 3:19-21.
If therefore, the doctrine of eternal death were no more than the natural continuance of the alienation and corruption of men, we see that in the absence of the means to remove these they must continue forever.
2. But this doctrine goes farther and teaches (a) the confirmation of men beyond future escape in this condition of sin and misery, and (b) its aggravation, or at least a farther development of it, which is restrained in this life, and only slightly and in a few instances indicated.
This is taught by showing: (1) That the day of judgment has been postponed, and that men during the present life are in an intermediate state of probation. (2) That at the appointed time the wicked shall be judged and their final doom assigned to them. (3) That that doom shall be as eternal as the bliss of the righteous. The strongest words of the Greek language are used to express the eternity of that condition. (4) That beyond that period there shall be no change of state nor opportunity of redemption. (5) That the condition of punishment into which they will enter is that of the devil and his angels, which is an entirely depraved and corrupted state of bitter enmity to God, and to holy beings and things; a state without restraints, in which the soul is wholly given up to sin. The 1st chapter of Romans teaches us what the removal of such restraints will produce. (6) Some intimation of what that state will be is given in the devil-blinded, self-hardened condition attained even in this life by the worst of men, who, in their wilful, blasphemous and high-handed opposition to God and holiness, show that they are spiritually possessed by the devil.
Reprinted from chapter 23 of Abstract of Systematic Theology by James P. Boyce