No one, reading the opening chapters of Genesis, can escape the reality that Adam had invited the wrath of God upon himself. But what about the rest of us? The 5th-century British monk Pelagius argued that Adam’s sin affected Adam alone. Infants born to Adam come into this world in the same state as Adam was before the Fall. Augustine, on the other hand, argued that man had lost the moral ability to do good.
Pelagius was condemned as a heretic. Yet, Pelagius’ heresy has lived on and has been a constant, continual thorn in the Church’s side. It was a thorn that I had wrestled with greatly, even cried over. Why? Because shortly before being introduced to this doctrine, Amanda and I had lost our first child. It was extremely difficult for me to accept that Jacob, who had only lived for about 10 seconds, would stand before God condemned because of a mistake made by someone else thousands of years ago. Pelagius’ view certainly appeals to our sensibilities and emotions. But is this what Scripture teaches?
The Reformation was a revival of Augustinianism. And the Westminster Divines affirmed this in their answer:
A. 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.
It is one thing that Augustine and the Reformers taught this; what does God say about it. Let’s highlight some verses in Romans 5:
Verse 15: “By the trespass of the one the many died.”
Verse 16: “judgment [arose] out of one [trespass] unto condemnation [unto all men]” (the last bracket is from verse 18).
Verse 17: “By the trespass of the one death reigned through the one [Adam].”
Verse 18: “Through one trespass [judgment came] unto all men unto condemnation.”
Verse 19: “Through the disobedience of the one man, the many were appointed sinners.”
Scripture is clear. There is a solidarity existing between Adam and the rest of mankind. Adam, whose name in Hebrew is “Man”, was appointed as our Federal Head, our Legal Representative in the Covenant of Life. And his failure in the Covenant became our failure.
Now, the immediate response by many people, if not most, is that it does not seem “fair.” That was certainly my response when thinking about Jacob. But is it with the idea of legal representation that we have a problem? I don’t think so. Even in our own legal system today, we practice the power of attorney. Or, suppose I hired someone to snuff out Enroe. The hitman does his deed and gets caught, and they trace it back to me. How many of us would have a problem with me getting arrested even though I did not pull the trigger?
I think the problem we have is not that Adam represented us, but that (1) we had no say in the matter and (2) the guy chosen for us seriously messed up. Had Adam succeeded, we would all be high-fiving each other. Right? Or, we might even think that we would have done a better job.
“Psshhh. The very second that slimy serpent even thought about taking a step inside the Garden, I would have been like, “Hey, what did the five fingers say to the serpent face? SLAP!”
But you know what? You would be wrong to think that. How do I know?
Let’s go back to Q #7: “The decrees of God are his eternal purpose, according to the counsel of his will, whereby, for his own glory, he hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.” That includes the SIN of Adam! Our Confession states in Chapter 6 that with the sin of our first parents “God was pleased, according to his wise and holy counsel, to permit, having purposed to order it to his own glory.”
It should be enough for us to know that God’s choice of Adam as our Representative was fair, holy, righteous, just, and good. As William Perkins remarked, it is “a just judgment of God silently to be, with reverence, rested in, and not with curiosity to be searched out.”
But consider this as well. What is the flip side to having Adam represent us? What “glory” is in view here? Let’s go back to Romans 5:
Verse 14: “Adam, who is a type [with respect to his federal headship] of the Coming One.”
Verse 15: “and the gift by grace abounded unto the many which is of the one man Jesus Christ.”
Verse 16: “The ones receiving the abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness shall reign in life through the one Jesus Christ.”
Verse 18: “Through one righteous act [the free gift came] unto all men unto justification of life.”
Verse 19: “Through the obedience of the one [man] the many shall be constituted righteous.”
Verse 21: “Grace reigns through righteousness … through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
It is no coincidence that those who have opposed the Federal Representation of Adam for all of mankind who ordinarily descend from him are the same people who have distorted beyond recognition the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Second Adam. If you reject the concept of Federal Headship in the Garden because it seems “unfair,” then you must by necessity reject the Federal Headship of the “last Adam” who “knew no sin,” yet was made, by God, “to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Cor. 5.21)
Let us forsake our own wisdom, emotions, and lofty opinions of ourselves and be content with the infinite, eternal, and unchangeable wisdom of our holy and righteous King, to the praise of Jesus Christ our Savior.