The Grace of Christ, or,
Sinners Saved by Unmerited Kindness

William S. Plumer, 1853

"We believe it is through the grace of our
 Lord Jesus that we are saved." Acts 15:11

Men are guilty. Imputation of Adam's sin. Actual sins.

In all inquiries it is important to understand the use of terms. This is quite true when we speak of guilt and of being guilty. The word guilt sometimes signifies a crime, an offence, a sin. In colloquial use this sense is common. So when we speak of guilty conduct, we mean it is sinful, or criminal conduct. Sometimes the word guilt is taken in the sense of consciousness of guilt. This is an improper but not an uncommon use of the word. Thus when a man is said to be borne down by his guilt, the meaning often is that he is oppressed by a sense of his sinfulness. Again, guilt is the state of a man justly charged with a crime. In this sense he, who has done the deed charged in an indictment, is said to be guilty. The charge is true of him. Again, guilt signifies exposure to forfeiture, or penalty, on account of some law violated. Thus Kent says, "A ship incurs guilt by the violation of a blockade." This was by far the most common sense of the word when our English translation of the Bible was made. Accordingly we there find the phrase "guilty of death," which evidently means justly liable to the penalty of death. Indeed our word, guilt, is derived from the Saxon, gylt, which signifies a fine or a debt. To pay a gylt was to pay a debt or fine.

This is also by fair the most common sense of the word as used by theologians, who use the term guilt in the sense of exposure to penal suffering. In this sense it is commonly used in this chapter. By saying that men are dreadfully guilty, it is taught that they are justly exposed and fairly liable to dreadful penal sufferings. Man is not only vile and helpless--he is also guilty. He is not only depraved and without strength--he is also condemned. The wicked not only have their consciences to clamor against them, but God is angry with them every day. Inspiration has settled it that we are "by nature the children of wrath even as others." Eph. 2:3. Yes, by nature we are under wrath. To be a child of sorrow is to be subject to sorrow. To be a child of wrath is to be subject to wrath. This doctrine is taught in the most explicit terms. Paul says: "By one man sin entered into the world and death by sin." "Through the offence of one, the many died." "The judgment was by one, to condemnation." "By one man's offence death reigned by one." "By the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation." "By one man's disobedience many were made sinners." Romans 5:12-19. "In Adam all die." 1 Cor. 15:22.

Clearer and more varied terms could not be required to teach us that we are by nature under a curse, liable to wrath, suffering a penalty. So the Church of Christ has always understood the sacred writers. This appears by many monuments of ancient and modern times. Cyprian says: "There were before Christ also famous men, prophets and priests; but being conceived and born in sin, they lacked neither original nor personal guilt." Jerome says: "All men are held to be guilty, either in consequence of the sin of Adam, their ancient progenitor, or by their own personal act." So also the great weight of Augustine's arguments fell upon and crushed the favorite dogma of Pelagius--"that the consequences of Adam's sin were confined to his own person." Augustine says: "We were all in that one man, when he, being one, corrupted us all." In fact a denial of the federal headship of Adam has commonly been followed by denying the federal headship of Christ. Although the enemies of truth are often rancorous in their opposition to the doctrine of our representation in Adam, yet the Church of God has never been ashamed of it.

The Confession of Helvetia having spoken of the fall of man into sin, death, and divers calamities, says: "By death we understand not only bodily death, which is once to be suffered of us all for sins, but also everlasting punishments due to our corruption and our sins." The Confession of Basle says that by the fall all mankind became "subject unto damnation." The Confession of Bohemia says that by the fall, man "cast headlong both himself and all his posterity into sin, death, and all kinds of miseries in this life, and into punishments eternal after this life." The Confession of France says: "We believe that this stain is indeed sin; because it makes all and every man guilty of eternal death before God." The Confession of Belgia says that original sin "is so filthy and abominable in the sight of God that it alone is sufficient to the condemnation of all mankind." The Augsburg Confession begins its account of original sin by saying that it is "that guilt, whereby all who come into the world, are, through Adam's fall, subject to God's wrath ant eternal death." The Churches of England and Ireland in their Articles say that "in every person born into the world original sin deserves God's wrath and damnation." The Synod of Dort condemns the errors of those, who teach "that it cannot well be affirmed that original sin is sufficient for the condemning of all mankind, or for the deserving of temporal and eternal punishment." They declare that such go against the Apostle in Romans 5:12-19, and 6:23.

The Westminster Confession, now so extensively adopted in Great Britain and America by orthodox churches, says: "Every sin, both original and actual, being a transgression of the righteous law of God, and contrary thereunto, does, in its own nature, bring guilt upon the sinner; whereby he is bound over to the wrath of God, and curse of the law, and so made subject to death with all miseries, spiritual, temporal and eternal." Should any be inclined to think these remarks needlessly protracted, let them remember,

1. that the doctrine of the guilt of Adam's first sin being imputed to his posterity has been opposed, vilified and maligned in an extraordinary way; and,

2. that the entire work of Christ as a Savior will soon be deemed unnecessary by those, who are bold enough to deny original sin. The ablest writers the Church has ever had, have taken this view of this doctrine. Ridgley says: "The Apostle calls Adam the figure of him that was to come. Romans 5:14. Now, in what was Adam a type of Christ? Not as he was a man, consisting of soul and body; for, in that respect, all that lived before Christ might as justly be called types of him. Whenever we read of any person or thing being a type in Scripture, there are some peculiar circumstances, by which they may be distinguished from all other persons or things, which are not types. Now Adam was distinguished from all other persons, more especially as he was the federal head of all his posterity; and that he was so, appears from what the Apostle not only occasionally mentions, but largely insists on, and shows in what respect this was true; and he particularly observes, that as one conveyed death, the other was the head, or Prince of Life. These respective things, indeed, were directly opposite, therefore the analogy, or resemblance consisted only in the manner of conveying them; so that as death did not become due to us, in the first instance of our liableness to it, for our own actual sin, but the sin of Adam; that right we have to eternal life, by justification, is not the result of our own obedience, but Christ's. This is plainly the Apostle's method of reasoning."

Edwards says: "When the doctrine of original sin is spoken of, it is vulgarly understood in that latitude, which includes not only the depravity of nature, but the imputation of Adam's first sin; or, in other words, the liableness and exposedness of Adam's posterity, in the divine judgment, to partake of the punishment of that sin. So far as I know, most of those who have held one of these, have maintained the other; and most of those, who have opposed one, have opposed the other." He shows his estimate of the importance of this doctrine when he devotes an entire chapter to its separate consideration. He also says that "the rejection of the doctrine of original sin renders redemption unnecessary."

Thomas Boston in his discourse on Romans 5:19 says: "There are only two ways how men might be made sinners by the disobedience of Adam; namely, either by imputation or imitation. The last is not meant; (1) Because some of those many who are made sinners are not capable of imitation of actual sin, namely, infants. (2) Because we are made righteous, not by the imitation, but imputation of Christ's righteousness; but as we are made righteous by the one, so we are made sinners by the other." Owen says: Adam's "actual sin is imputed unto us, as that which becomes ours by that imputation." Beveridge says: "We see the Apostle saying, 'All have sinned,' (Romans 5:12,) before all were born, which could not be unless they had before sinned in him from whom they were born. And so, many render the words 'in whom all have sinned;' and therefore the same Apostle tells us, 'In Adam all died.' 1 Cor. 15:22. Now how could all die in him, unless all sinned in him? For death is the wages of sin only, as well as the only wages of sin." The celebrated James Arminius of the University of Leyden, though erroneous in many things, yet closes a paragraph on original sin with these words: "From these things, the imputation of the sin of our first parents is necessarily inferred; for wherever there is the punishment of sin, there is the imputation of the same." Again: "Whatever punishment was inflicted on our first parents, has also pervaded all their posterity, and still oppresses them; so that all are by nature children of wrath, (Eph. 2:31,) obnoxious to condemnation, and to death--temporal and eternal, (Romans 5:12,) and are, lastly, devoid of that original righteousness and holiness; with which evils they would continue oppressed forever, unless they were delivered from them by Jesus Christ; to whom be glory forever and ever." (Romans v. 18, 19.) Richard Watson says: "In Romans 5, Adam and Christ are contrasted in their public or federal character; and the hurt which mankind have derived from the one, and the healing they have received from the other, are also contrasted in various particulars, which are equally represented as the effects of the 'offence' of Adam, and of the 'obedience' of Christ. Adam, indeed, in verse 14, is called, with allusion to this public representative character, the figure, type, or model of Him that was to come.' The same Apostle also adopts the phrases 'the first Adam,' and 'the second Adam,' which mode of speaking can only be explained on the ground, that as sin and death descended from one, so righteousness and life flow from the other; and that what Christ is to all his spiritual seed, that Adam is to all his natural descendants. On this, the parallel is founded, 'For as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive;' (1 Cor. 15:22,) words, which on any other hypothesis can have no natural signification." Even Bellarmine says: "The sin of Adam is so imputed to all his posterity--as if they had all committed the same sin."

It ought constantly to be remembered that errorists have an almost uniform mode of attacking the truth. They would subvert the doctrine of universal depravity, and they begin by attacking native depravity. They would set aside the whole doctrine of original sin, and they commence by finding fault with the imputation of Adam's first sin. There is also a constant sinking down into lower error. Pelagius first propagated his errors by putting objections into the mouths of others, and by suggesting difficulties to the true doctrine. But his follower Julian unblushingly said: "The triune God should be adored as most just; and it has been made to appear most irrefragably, that the sin of another never can be imputed by him to little children." Again: "Hence that is evident, which we defend as most reasonable, that no one is born in sin, and that God never judges men to be guilty on account of their birth." "Children, inasmuch as they are children, never can be guilty, until they have done something by their own proper will." There is about as close an agreement between the enemies of truth in different ages as to the language they will adopt in opposing sound doctrine, as there is among its friends in the manner of maintaining it.

But as if this condemnation by nature, this death by the sin of our progenitor imputed to us, were not as fiery and terrible as men would have it, they rush into actual sins, and bring more wrath upon themselves by great wickedness and unrighteousness, by many acts of impiety and malice. They devise mischief upon their beds; they love vain thoughts; they rebel against God; break every precept of his law, and vex his Holy Spirit. In thought, word, and deed they are transgressors. They are as an unclean thing. Their consciences are defiled. Their wills are perverse. They have all done, and are all doing that which was forbidden. They have all failed and are daily failing to do what was commanded. The law, which they break, is holy, just and good. It is the only perfect law ever enacted. No sentence could be more just than this, "the soul that sins--it shall die." Punishment is deserved by all transgressors. If there were no prohibitions to sin, men could not seem more eager after iniquity than at present. Not only so, the very prohibition provokes a longing for disobedience. "Sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire." Romans 7:8. Thus "the whole world lies in wickedness."

Its guilt would instantly sink it to hell but for the patience and longsuffering of God. If the precept of the law is holy, just, and good; so is the penalty. God is the author of both. The human conscience whenever enlightened and aroused, pronounces damnation just. Psalm 51:4. The boldest sinners in the world will be speechless in the day of judgment. Guilt is a dreadful chain. It holds all its prisoners bound in affliction and iron. No man can give to God a ransom for himself, or for his brother; for "the redemption of the soul is precious," costly, infinitely costly. In the awards of the last day every conscience will acquiesce, and all caviling at God's sovereign disposal of men will be forever silenced. The sentence of exclusion from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power, will be most righteous. Nothing could be more holy, more deserved. All heaven, all earth, all hell will see and feel how just it is.

O man of the world, can your hands be strong, or your heart endure, when God shall call you to account? "What will you say when he shall punish you?" Well did Augustine say, "Woe to the life of man, be it never so commendable, apart from the mercy of God in Christ."