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The Canons of Dort, Third/Fourth Head of Doctrine, Article Two

Article 2: The Spread of Corruption

Man brought forth children of the same nature as himself after the fall. That is to say, being corrupt he brought forth corrupt children. The corruption spread, by God's just judgment, from Adam to all his descendants-- except for Christ alone--not by way of imitation (as in former times the Pelagians would have it) but by way of the propagation of his perverted nature.


When Adam fell into sin, all those in Adam fell with him.  Article 2 of the third/fourth head of doctrine deals with the way in which the effects of Adam’s sin are passed on to his descendants.  Having lost “original righteousness”—including true righteousness, holiness and knowledge (Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10)—and now having come under the curse and death as a result of his act of rebellion, the question must be settled as to whether or not Adam’s descendants are born in sin and are likewise under its condemnation. 

Here there are many biblical texts which immediately come to mind, although we have space to briefly survey but a few of them.  In Psalm 51, the Psalmist declares, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5).  In Psalm 58:3, the Psalmist reminds us that “the wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies.”  In Genesis 6:5, we learn from Moses that the reason that God sent the flood as judgment upon the earth was that “the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”

The Apostle Paul is equally clear about the human condition throughout his writings. In Romans 5:12, 18-19, Paul declares “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man [Adam], and death through sin [that is, through Adam’s act of rebellion], and so death spread to all men because all sinned [when Adam sinned]—Therefore, as one trespass [namely Adam’s] led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men [Christ's active obedience].  For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made [or regarded, or reckoned] sinners, so by the one man's obedience [Christ's] the many will be made righteous.  In Ephesians 2, Paul puts it this way: We are “by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind,” and dead in sin and transgressions until made made alive by God.

It is with this in mind that the authors of the Canons summarize the voluminous biblical data as follows: "Man brought forth children of the same nature as himself after the fall. That is to say, being corrupt he brought forth corrupt children."  And as unpopular as this is in contemporary America, this is what the Scriptures clearly teach.

But the Canons go on to make another important point.  No one escapes the effects of Adam’s fall.  The effects of Adam’s Fall are universal.  "All of humanity has gone astray.  The corruption spread by God's just judgment from Adam to all his descendants--except for Christ alone--not by way of imitation (as in former times the Pelagians would have it) but by way of the propagation of his perverted nature."  Here the point is made that Adam acted as the federal [or representative] head of the human race.  God chose Adam as the first man to represent all of humanity as Adam was the appointed representative as well as the biological head of the entire human race. 

Therefore, when Adam sinned, in a real sense the entire human race sinned “in Adam” and “with Adam.”  Once Adam shook his fist in God’s face and said “I will eat from any tree that I want,” he started a process in motion which is irreversible and ultimately damning, apart from the grace of God and the coming of Jesus Christ.  There are three aspects of this “original sin” that we need to identify and discuss.

First, since Adam is our representative and was acting as our legal agent, the entire human race is guilty for what Adam did, since the guilt of Adam’s sin is reckoned or credited to all those he represents.  This means that God sees us as if we had committed the act ourselves. This is called “original guilt,” and indicates that I am guilty for Adam’s act of sin because he acted for me, in my place, as my divinely appointed representative.

The ramifications of this are obvious.  There is no one “innocent” after Adam, including the cutest of babies, or the sweetest of old ladies.  It was Augustine who correctly noted that babies are not innocent, they only appear that way since they are physically unable to sin!  Any parent will tell you children do not have to be taught to sin!  This also means that the popular evangelical doctrine of an “age of accountability” is a myth, and finds no support whatsoever in the Scriptures.  We are never innocent until a certain age—we are born guilty for Adam’s sin and under God’s just condemnation.

Second, after the fall, Adam came under the curse and the sentence of death.  In the day that Adam ate from the forbidden tree he was aware that he was naked and that sentence of death had immediately passed upon him.  Adam had been truly innocent before the Fall, but now he was sinful and painfully aware that what he had done could not be undone by his own efforts.  Apart from the coming of a second Adam, a Savior who could “unscramble the egg,” so to speak, Adam lost his “original righteousness.”   Adam was now guilty, and this guilt was passed on to all his natural descendants by natural generation. 

Therefore, the entire human race is born with what is called a sinful nature.  We are all born enslaved to the fallen nature we have described earlier.  This sinful nature produces a countless stream of personal sins for which we will likewise be judged and held accountable to God.  This is called inherited corruption.  We sin because we are sinners.  We sin because we like our sin.  We sin because we want to!

Third, this inherited sinful nature is itself under God’s just condemnation since we are fallen and guilty and subject to the curse, which is death.  We are also subject to God’s wrath, which is judgment.  This means that everyone who has ever been born, will die.  Death is inevitable! In fact, death is the great empirical proof of the doctrine of original sin.  Not one born has yet escaped its clutches. 

To put it mildly, after the fall, the entire human race is in very bad shape!  We are born guilty for Adam’s act of rebellion, as well as for all of our own sins.  We are born with a sinful nature and apart from God’s grace we can do nothing but sin, further increasing our guilt.  We are under the curse of death, since we are born with a corrupt nature which brings us under God’s wrath for our own actual sins.  This is why there must be a prior act of grace on God’s part if any of Adam’s fallen children are to be delivered from judgement.  We are helpless, completely unwilling and unable to save ourselves.

The Pelagians, on the other hand, champion human freedom even after Adam’s fall and sought to limit Adam’s sin strictly to the bad example that Adam introduced into the world when he rebelled against God.  According to the Pelagians, we sin because Adam showed us how to sin! We do not inherit a sinful nature from our parents.  Rather, like Adam we are born innocent, but we lose that innocence immediately when we sin.  This is nonsense. 

The Scriptures everywhere teach what is summarized in the Canons, namely that we sin because we are sinners and that Adam’s sinful nature was passed down to all humanity by natural generation.  Though the Pelagians maintain a rosy estimation of fallen human nature, the Scriptures are crystal clear that apart from God’s grace, there is no hope.  Death, guilt, and God's judgment are inevitable.  Human innocence and free-will is but a figment of the fallen and sinful human mind.

For the Pelagian, all the children of Adam really need is correct information so that we no longer follow Adam’s bad example and instead follow Christ’s good example.  But this simply ignores the biblical record, which teaches us that we are enslaved to sin, can do nothing to save ourselves.  We need much more than correct information.  We need a God-man to die for our sins, and to fulfill the law so that we might be rescued from our helpless condition.

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