Book II Chapter I Section 1-11
The theme of Book II is the knowledge of God the Redeemer and in the opening chapters Calvin considers why we need a redeemer at all. The first reason is because of original (or inherited) sin and in Chapter 1 he examines the fall of Adam. We have already considered something of Adam’s pre-fall character in Chapter 15, when we thought about what mankind would have been like had Adam never sinned. Now we are examining what actually happened and the extent to which our nature has been corrupted.
Calvin divides the knowledge which we must seek about our true nature into two categories. Firstly we must strive to understand the end for which mankind was created and the qualities with which he was endued; and secondly to consider “his faculties, or rather want of faculties – a want which, when perceived, will annihilate all his confidence”. The former view teaches man what his duty is and the latter makes him aware how far he is able to perform those duties.
What was Adam’s sin? Calvin argues that it must have been a very serious crime to have justified such a punishment on the whole human race. He argues that it was not just a case of “sensual intemperance” but it was a deeper, more sinister act. It began with pride by trying to be equal with God, but also included a revolt against the authority of God, a despising of the truth and turning aside to lies. “From infidelity, again, sprang ambition and pride, together with ingratitude”. He goes on to argue that it was not even a simple apostacy, as the guilty pair effectively charged God with “malice, envy and falsehood”.
So if that was the crime, what was the nature and extent of the punishment? Calvin argues that it was:
- Not only on Adam and Eve, but the entire human race as Adam was the “root” that spread the deadly infection through the tree
- Not propagated by imitation but innate corruption, i.e. we bring our sin with us from our birth, not because we begin innocent and later sin
- Not propagated from parents to children, i.e. the godliness of believing parents does not prevent their children from being born spiritually dead. Original sin is inherited, but not from our parents but Adam, our first father.
- Not only the removal of our original righteousness, but possessing a nature of active, prolific rebellion
- Not limited to our sensuality only, but this heredity disease effects every part of our mind (intellect), heart (affections) and soul (spirit)
Thus, “the cause of the contagion (infection) is neither in the substance of the flesh (our bodies) nor the soul, but God was pleased to ordain that those gifts which He had bestowed on the first man, that man should lose as well for his descendants as for himself” (italics mine).
As I meditate on what happened when Adam sinned and the extent of the punishment inflicted on mankind, well did God say that on the day you eat it you will surely die. Better for Adam to immediately die physically, than live with the curse of this corrupt nature, apart from God and under His wrath and transmit it to all his offspring that they too would share in his curse. How deep and all pervasive is this corruption of every part of our lives. What remedy could possibly reverse the effects of this poison? We can fight against a disease that spreads in the atmosphere, but how to fight a disease that comes from within our own body? When we have peered with sobering gaze at the infected human heart we would almost give up all hope of a cure, were it not for the fact that we know one day God would provide a Saviour.
“What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks by to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Romans 7.24+25
Father, we know that if we had been in Adam’s place we would have also fallen. Help us to remember his failure with humility, may it remind us of the weakness and frailty of our own hearts. Thank you for rescuing us from the penalty of this failure, Spirit work in us to diminish the power of our innate corruption and we look forward to the day we will be freed from even the presence of our inherited sin. Worthy is the lamb who has rescued and redeemed us, Amen.