Reformed Spirituality

Death Passed upon All Men

By Simon PadburyJuly 21, 2018
In Total Depravity7 min read
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Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned...
Romans 5:12

When God completed the creation of the heavens and the earth, and all that is in them, he said of his own work that “it was very good” (Genesis 1:31).

This included the first parents of mankind, Adam and Eve. And besides their being physically exellent creations of God, God had also created them spiritually in his own image (Genesis 1:26,27).

Mankind’s original moral purity, communion with God, and knowledge of the truth was all part of that “very good” endowment. In the beginning, our first parents were on the most intimate terms with God himself (see Genesis 2). They loved God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength. They worshipped and obeyed him. God was the object of their affections and they glorified him. They believed the words that he spoke to them. Their knowledge of God and spiritual things was altogether true.

That this is how things were with mankind in the beginning is evident from the fact that all these things are renewed in fallen sinners whom God saves (Romans 8:29,30; Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10).

Our first parents originally possessed free will with which they could choose to worship and obey God. But the Bible tells us that they abused their freedom by sinning against him. In doing this they ruined the image of God with which they were endowed and so they became unrighteous, unholy rejecters of God. Their original freedom ended when they became the slaves of sin (Romans 6:16).

Adam and Eve still bore the remnants of the image of God—inasmuch as they were still morally responsible, spiritual and rational beings. But each one of their original endowments had become ruined by sin.

Some people ask the question, “What would have happened if Adam and Eve had resisted the Tempter in the Garden of Eden?” We note that already in Genesis chapter 2, God is introduced as the “LORD”1Jehovah (or as some prefer to pronounce it, Yahweh), a name by which God refers to himself in connection with the covenant which he has established with his people (compare Exodus 3:13-15). In the Garden of Eden, God entered into a covenant with Adam, and all mankind in him.

Since God had solemnly promised that death would come upon man if he disobeyed God, we can infer that if Adam had successfully resisted all temptation, then God would have faithfully kept him and his descendants in the state of life. All of mankind would have remained the people of God and he would have remained their God.

But that is not what happened.

The Covenant of Life Was Broken

Our first parents sinned by eating the forbidden fruit of the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:17; 3:6). Perfect obedience, including not eating of the fruit of this one tree, was the condition of the covenant of life2 that God had established with Adam in the Garden of Eden. In this covenant Adam was appointed by God to stand as the responsible representative head of mankind by ordinary generation—that is, the whole human family, but with the exception of the Lord Jesus Christ3. (Christ stands as the “Last Adam”—as the head of the New Covenant (see 1 Corinthians 15:22,45 and Hebrews 9:15)4.)

We call the covenant that was established in Eden the “covenant of life” because first, it is a covenant, since by this arrangement God committed himself to keep Adam and those whom he represented alive so long as Adam did not eat the forbidden fruit; and for his part Adam was committed to remain obedient to God’s command not to eat this fruit. And second, it is a covenant of life because this covenant conveyed life so long as Adam performed his part.

This covenant is also sometimes known as a covenant of works,5 because it stood unbroken only as long as Adam was faithful and kept it (Genesis 2:16,17).

When Eve, the first woman, sinned, she sinned for herself. We can speculate that if Adam had not been involved in any way at all in Eve’s sin, then God would have judged Eve alone for her sin. Adam was there—he was present “with her” and he evidently did not try to stop his wife eating the forbidden fruit. Then Adam himself, in full knowledge of what he was about to do—not deceived as Eve had been (Genesis 3:13; compare 1 Timothy 2:14)—“he did eat” (Genesis 3:6).

The sinful act that catastrophically ruined mankind was this: the first man, the appointed covenant head, perfect in all his faculties and up to that point without sin, deliberately disobeyed God—even though he had been warned that there would be serious consequences. This is the sin that broke the covenant of life.

Adam knew how God had solemnly promised that if he ate some of the forbidden fruit, then God would forsake him, withdraw his favourable providences, and punish him with death for his sin. Or, to put it simply: if Adam sinned against God in breaking the covenant of life, then he would “surely die”6 (Genesis 2:16,17).

God had used the singular term, “thou,” addressing Adam himself directly: “thou shalt surely die.” But we were all included in that “thou”—we were all “in Adam,” because when God established the covenant of life with Adam, with its attendant promised blessing and threatened curse, he appointed him to stand for all mankind—the body over which he is the head. In that covenant the whole human race was counted as one corporate entity, in Adam, who in his capacity as our responsible representative head, acted both for himself and for his descendants7 by ordinary generation (see Romans 5:17-19).

Thus we read: “by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned [i.e. all are counted to have sinned in Adam’s original sin]…” (Romans 5:12); and, “in Adam all die” (1 Corinthians 15:22).

In that one yet compound sin of eating this forbidden fruit, whereby Adam broke the covenant of life—we all died.

Mankind’s ability to glorify and enjoy God was destroyed was when the covenant of life was broken. And fallen human beings do not have it within themselves to raise themselves from this state of spiritual death.

God Is the Upholder of All Physical and Spiritual Life

The Bible affirms that God is the Upholder (or, Sustainer) of all things, and that he not only literally holds all things together—from whatever is smaller than subatomic particles to whatever is greater than galactic superclusters—but he also makes use of the material world in his providence in order to sustain our material bodies.

God is even now giving us every heartbeat, the air that we breathe, our food, our health, the ground on which we walk, the environment around us and everything in it. God, by his own power and in accordance with his own will, is preventing everything falling back into nothing, and he is sustaining the continued existence of all things.

Adam and Eve’s original God-given ability to glorify God and to enjoy him (this ability would have lasted forever)8 was sustained by the spiritual life-giving God.

As with us today, so our first parents were utterly dependent upon God for everything—for “life, and breath, and all things” (Acts 17:25). It is entirely due to God’s sustaining providence that we “live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28; see also, e.g. Psalms 104:10-30; Job 33:4; Colossians 1:15-17; Hebrews 1:2,3).

Human death is not merely due to a person’s body or brain or DNA ceasing to function. Nor is it merely the breaking of the connection between a person’s body and soul—as though the human soul was the sustainer of the body, or as though the functioning body was the prison cell of the soul (as some ancient Greeks believed).

According to the Bible, human death occurs through the withdrawal of God’s providential blessings and their replacement with curses—God’s just punishment of sinners for their sins.

Since humans are both spiritual and physical beings, human death includes both the severance of spiritual communion with God (Genesis 3:8,19,22-24; Isaiah 59:2; Hab. 1:13); the withdrawal of all the spiritual blessings which that entails; the removal of material blessings, including all sustaining providences in this earthly life; and the outpouring of God’s wrath upon body and soul forever (Matthew 10:28; John 5:28-29; 2 Thessalonians 1:9).

As with our first parents both before and after their fall, so today it is necessary that God must work within us both to will and to do of his good pleasure—and this is what God does, in those whom he saves (see Philippians 2:13). King David understood this too: “[The LORD] restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake” (Psalms 23:3).8

The Psalmist acknowledged that a work of God was required within him in order to open his eyes that he might behold wondrous things out of God’s law; to put new spiritual life into him; to incline him toward God’s moral laws and to make him to walk in them; to enable his soul thus to live (Psalms 119:18,25,33-38, 154,156,175).

Do you know what you really need?

Chapter 1 of God’s Grace In Our Experience.

To be continued.

  1. It is a convention in the Old Testament of our Bible to translate the proper name of God יהוה (YHWH, see Strong’s Concordance #3068) as “LORD”, and אֲדוֹן (adon, see _Strong’s Concordance #113) as “Lord”.
  2. Westminster Shorter Catechism, question and answer 12.
  3. While it is true that the Lord Jesus Christ is part of Adam’s progeny—he is as fully human as we are—yet he did not become part of the human family by ordinary generation. Mary gave birth to him while she was still a virgin, because he had been miraculously conceived in her womb by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:26-35).
  4. This New Covenant we also call the “covenant of grace”. (see the Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 7, sections 3 to 6.
  5. Westminster Confession of Faith chapter 7, sections 1 & 2.
  6. In the original Hebrew language at this point, this phrase contains two similar words that can be translated “dying…die”. This is probably an instance of the Hebrew literary device used for emphasis: employing more than one word with similar meaning.
  7. Eve too was covenantally included in Adam, having been made from his rib (Genesis 2:23-24); and so he also stood and acted for her in the covenant of life. If she had been a “separate” creation, so to speak, then she would not have been qualified to be a descendant of Adam—and only descendants of Adam can be saved by the incarnate Last Adam.
  8. Westminster Shorter Catechism, question and answer 1.

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