We should not pit this legal analogy for the human story against the relational, which is just as important; both are integral to a covenantal account. The Holy Spirit is the divine witness, who pronounces God’s blessing on creation and makes us true witnesses to God and his works. But there is a false witness, Satan, who in the garden first misinterprets God’s Word and then denies it (Gen. 3:1–5). He succeeds in getting Adam and Eve to doubt God’s Word and attempt to go behind it to discover something hidden about God himself. In this way, we submitted God and his ways to our sovereign judgment. God, however, arrived in the garden in true and righteous judgment, and the ensuing covenant trial, with its curses and promises, is echoed in every subplot of the Bible. And Adam’s new role as covenant transgressor and false witness bears on his relation to all humanity and the rest of creation as well as to God.
As the representative head of humanity, Adam stood in total personal righteousness, in loving fellowship with God, and with the Sabbath held out to him. After the fall, we retain a natural nostalgia for God (which we twist into idolatry) as well as a yearning to attain the consummation (twisted into self-will and oppression). In short, the human race in Adam is now the false prophet who misrepresents God’s Word, the false priest who corrupts God’s sanctuary, and the false king who exercises cruel tyranny.
Every person is now born estranged from the good Father; unwilling to be a faithful son, humanity became a slave of sin and death. The features of a covenant are clearly delineated in Genesis 1–3: a historical prologue (chaps. 1–2), stipulations (2:16–17), sanctions (2:17, over which Eve and Satan argue, 3:1–5), and judgment for transgression (3:8–19). The Tree of Life was the prize waiting for faithfulness, securing participation in God’s own Sabbath rest. Further, the terms that form the basis of an entirely new covenantal state of affairs are announced in Genesis 3:21–24. Adam’s covenantal role entailed his representation of all humanity and all creation (Gen. 3:17–18; Rom. 5:12–21; 8:20). This original covenant of creation may be defended by appeal to non-Christian as well as Christian sources. Even ancient pagan cultures grounded their laws in a narrative of original creation that was universally normative. Judaism grounds human moral solidarity in an original creational covenant with Adam. Islam affirms certain laws that are binding on all people because of a common Adamic origin. Buddhism, Confucianism, Hinduism, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and our own conscience—all testify to an indelible conviction of moral accountability before a holy God for how we treat each other.
The Christian notion of a creational covenant did not arise because of a Western emphasis on legal categories; Irenaeus and John of Damascus in the East affirm an Adamic covenant, as Augustine did in the West. The beginnings of developed Reformed covenant or federal theology can easily be seen among the Reformers. All of these advocates of a creational covenant with Adam appealed to its biblical basis, not only the obvious covenantal elements in Genesis and the strong parallels between Adam and Christ but also specific passages that refer to Adam’s covenant-breaking (e.g., Hos. 6:7; Job 31:33). Israel’s national existence is in many ways a recapitulation of the creational covenant of the law of love for God and neighbor and is also crucial to understanding the biblical testimony to this covenant of works (and its distinction from the new covenant of grace, e.g., Galatians 3–4).
The creational covenant is rooted in law and love, not in grace. Again, grace presupposes fault and sin, and creation’s original integrity included neither. Against Roman Catholicism, the Reformers taught that before the fall humanity had no need of any “superadded grace” (do-num super-add-i-tum) that would keep an inherent bent toward sin and corruption from erupting beyond control. We did not fall because God removed his grace and we followed our original propensity toward sin; we fell because, against the integrity of original righteousness, we freely rebelled against God’s love. The terms of the covenant of creation cannot be, and were not, simply set aside. But owing to God’s amazing grace, they have been fulfilled in place of the elect by his incarnate Son.
The doctrine of original sin describes our collective human guilt and corruption in Adam. No doctrine is more significant for biblical anthropology, yet none has been more relentlessly criticized. The doctrine arises from two principle biblical sources: (1) the covenantal shape of all God’s dealings with humanity and (2) the specific narrative of the fall from original integrity. The concept of solidarity or representative headship—human solidarity in Adam, Israel’s solidarity in Abraham and Moses, the elect’s solidarity in Christ—is basic to the biblical worldview. It is crucial for Christian theology to affirm the historical veracity of Adam and his representative sin. While there are metaphysical or ontological consequences to Adam’s transgression of the covenant (corruption and death), the basis of these and the essence of sin itself is legal and ethical (1 Cor. 15:56)—that is, just like our commission in the image of God, original sin is to be understood in covenantal terms. In highly developed nations today, amid Pelagian and individualistic presuppositions, it is incomprehensible that each and every person could be held responsible for participation in collective guilt (not just its consequences) on the basis of one person’s own transgression. But it is basic to biblical faith that we are guilty not only for Adam’s sin but as sinners in Adam.
Fundamentalism tends to reduce sin to evil personal behaviors; liberalism tends to reduce it to evil social structures. But sin is far deeper than either account. It is a condition—we sin because we are sinners, not vice versa. We are victims and perpetrators of sin; every sinner is also sinned against, both in interpersonal and broader social contexts. Scripture will not let us contrast “us” with “them” when it comes to sin but declares that all are under sin (Rom. 3:9–12). When reduced to the merely interpersonal dimension, sin becomes negative behaviors or failure to live up to personal or cultural expectations. When the divine-human dimension is considered primary, sin becomes guilt and condemnation before a holy and righteous Lord with whom we have broken covenant. Such divergent definitions of sin thus lead to radically different views of redemption.
Two helpful distinctions are necessary to account for both humanity’s universal sinfulness and corruption and its remaining goodness and abilities. The distinction between righteousness before God and before others—While Scripture (and experience) credits unbelievers with a certain goodness, justice, and wisdom in human affairs, it is the righteousness of God’s own character that is the standard by which all will be judged. The distinction between natural and moral ability—Humans possess a natural ability to obey God’s commands but lack the moral ability to love God and neighbor in accord with God’s righteous character; our human capacities and abilities were not lost in the fall but twisted and deformed in unrighteousness.
“Total depravity” does not mean that we are incapable of any justice or good before others; rather, it means that there is no aspect of our humanity that is left unfallen, from which we might make a beginning of justice and goodness before God. The soul, mind, and heart, as much as the body, are corrupt. Yet the fact that we can turn to God but will not manifests and reinforces our guilt (John 8:44; Rom. 1:18–2:16).
“A father out of indulgence may pass by a failing when his son waits upon him; for instance, suppose he should spill the wine and break the glass; but surely he will not allow him to throw it down carelessly or wilfully.”
Every one can see that there is a grave distinction between sins of infirmity and wilful transgressions. A man may splash us very badly with the wheel of his carriage, as he passes by, and we may feel vexed, but the feeling would have been very much more keen if he had thrown mud into our face with deliberate intent. By the grace of God, we do not sin wilfully. Our wrongdoing comes of ignorance or of carelessness, and causes us many a pang of conscience, for we would fain be blameless before our God. Wilfully to offend is not according to our mind. In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil. Deliberation and delight in sin are sure marks of the heirs of wrath. Sin in believers is a terrible evil, but there is this mitigation of it, that they do not love it, and cannot rest in it. The true son does not wish to do damage to his father’s goods; on the contrary, he loves to please his father, and he is himself grieved when he causes grief to one whom he so highly honors. O my Lord, I pray thee let me not sin carelessly, lest I come to sin presumptuously. Make me to be watchful against my infirmities, that I may not fall by little and little.
*** Taken from C. H. Spurgeon, Flowers from a Puritan’s Garden, Distilled and Dispensed (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1883), 18.
The Westminster Confession of Faith makes some important points about the interpretation of Scripture, including chapter 1.9: “The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture, is the Scripture itself; and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it may be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.” A text may demand an allegorical interpretation because it literally is an allegory, but theologians are not to go to the text with the fourfold method (the literal sense “is that which is gathered immediately out of the words,” which is then coupled with the “spiritual sense,” divided into allegorical, tropological, and anagogical) in mind as a basic presupposition for interpreting the Bible. The Scriptures themselves must dictate how they are to be interpreted.
Another specific exegetical tool used by the Puritans to interpret Scripture is the analogy of faith (analogia fidei). Needed explained are the differences between the analogy of faith and the analogy of Scripture (analogia Scripturae). The Scriptures interpret the Scriptures, so that “when there is a question about the true and full sense of any scripture,… it may be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.” The analogy of faith (analogia fidei) resulted from the fact that the Bible is the Word of God and therefore possesses an intrinsic consistency and unity. That is to say, the Scriptures do not contradict themselves. The analogy of faith maintains the internal consistency of the Scriptures, which are not contradictory. The analogy of faith differs from the analogy of Scripture (analogia Scripturae) insofar as the analogy of faith is a principle whereby a theologian uses the “general sense of the meaning of Scripture, constructed from the clear or unambiguous loci [passages] as the basis for interpreting unclear or ambiguous texts.” The analogy of Scripture, however, more specifically has in view the interpretation of unclear passages by comparing with clearer passages that are related to the difficult text in question.
Another specific exegetical tool used by the Puritans to interpret Scripture is to understand the limits of human reasoning. John Owen did not mince any words when it came to another fundamental aspect of interpreting the Bible. Those who attempt to interpret the Scriptures “in a solemn manner, without invocation of God to be taught and instructed by his Spirit, is a high provocation to him; nor shall I expect the discovery of truth from anyone who so proudly and ignorantly engageth in a work so much above his ability to manage.” Owen affirmed that the Holy Spirit works on the minds of the elect so as to enable them to understand the Scriptures since He is the immediate author of all spiritual illumination. Christians cannot assume this will happen, as if to take for granted this spiritual privilege; rather, they must pray that God would enable them to understand His mind and will, which apart from the Spirit is impossible. We must not allow our fallible reasoning a place of preeminence above the Scriptures. The Holy Spirit enables Christians to receive all of the truths of Scripture without letting reason dominate the way. If reason was to dominate our interpretation this will lead to various theological errors. Goodwin claims that the cause of all theological errors “hath been for the want of reconciling these things together.” He clearly has in mind those who exalt reason over revelation, which meant that so many glorious truths were denied in favor of reason. Reason cannot work out the mysteries of the Bible. If reason becomes the primary principle, and not faith, we will understand nothing, or little, of the mysteries of salvation. In the same way, Flavel suggests that reason is no better than a “usurper when it presumes to arbitrate matters belonging to faith and revelation.” Instead, reason sits at the feet of faith. Indeed, God’s works are not unreasonable, “but many of them are above reason.”
The number of the elect can neither be increased or diminished, this act cannot be changed, contains the whole sum and scope of the Gospel.
God was not drawn on to love us beyond what he intended, there is no new thing to God, known from beginning of time.
Puritan Greenham, A Profitable Treatise for the reading and understanding of the Holy Scriptures. Dr. Beeke writes, “Though Greenham is used here as a model, many Puritans have addresed the “how-to” of Bible reading.” His points are worthy of your time;
1. Diligence, if you read The Scriptures diligently it will make your rough places plain, difficult easy, and unsavory tasty.
2. Wisdom, choice of matter, do not spend the bulk of time on the most difficult portion of the Word, do not move from revealed to unrevealed, the wise reader will aim to be established in a well rounded doctrine. Time, never let a day pass without reading the Bible, Sunday most of the day.
3. Preparation, approach the Bible with a reverential fear, swift to hear, and slow to speak. Approach with faith in Jesus Christ, sincerely desirous to learn of God, and put your heart into reading the Bible.
4. Meditation, if you don’t meditate you won’t get depth, the difference between rowing and drifting to a destination in a boat; reading without meditation is barren
5. Conference, Proverbs 21:7, iron sharpening iron, concerned about small group discussions, not too large; should be able to be free to speak.
6. Faith, faith is the key to profitable reception.
7. Practice, the doing of a sermon; “is the sermon finished? It has been preached, but not yet been done” reply of a Puritan husband to his wife’s question upon returning home from church.
8. Prayer, indispensable for all our reading of Scripture; before and after the reading of the Bible, pray as you read them, memorize verses, meditate, think about it and then put it into practice.
If you need nourishment of your body, then you need a blessing for nourishment of spiritual things; we need to do these things to get the bible into us; we must get into it in a genuine and saving way.
HT: Notes taking while in Puritan Theology under Dr. Joel Beeke. Read his full article on Reading and Hearing the Word in a Puritan Way.
The past two weeks I have been taking an expositional and applicable look at Matthew 16 verses one through four, just one of Jesus’ encounters with the Pharisees. This week I am going to continue to do the same, taking a look specifically at verse four where it reads “An Evil and Adulterous Generation Seeks for a Sign.” Matthew 16:1-4 reads in its entirety;
“1 And the Pharisees, together with the Sadducees, came, and tempting desired that he would show them a sign from heaven. 2 But he answering said to them, About the commencement of the evening you say, It will be fine weather; for the sky is red. 3 And in the morning, There will be a storm to-day; for the sky is red and lowring. Hypocrites, you can judge aright of the face of the sky; but can you not judge of the signs of the times? 4 A wicked and adulterous nation demands a sign, and no sign shall be given to it but the sign of the prophet Jonah. And he left them, and departed.”
One question that comes to mind after reading, why would Christ call them an “evil and adulterous generation?” He did not accuse them of being guilty of physical adultery, but of spiritual adultery (Isa. 57; James 4:4). These men were worshiping a false god of their own manufacture, and this was spiritual adultery to Christ. Had they been worshiping the true God, they would have recognized the Sign, His Son when He came. The Pharisees and Sadducees were never satisfied with any signs, but continued their own wicked desires to tempted God. John Calvin writes about this matter saying,
“He (Christ) does not call them an adulterous nation merely because they demand some kind of sign, (for the Lord sometimes permitted his people to do this,) but because they deliberately provoke God.”
Jesus is telling them to read what is there in Scripture and is obvious that has been written in their Scriptures. The famous English writer C. S. Lewis wrote a famous essay on ‘Fern Seed and Elephants’, in which he talked about people claiming to see the significance of the smallest things while not seeing the elephants in front of them. Jesus is saying that the Pharisees are like that—unwilling to accept the clearest revelation from God, Himself, Jesus Christ.
Do we not see the same type of nation today here in America? One that is in ruin, one that does not accept to hear the truth, and one that does not accept to see the Great Sign given by God. We live today with two types of people, there is no in-between, those that are in Christ and those that are not. Here I must make two points of application. One for the unbeliever and one for the believer. For the unbeliever, do not continue to follow a path of those who seek after the signs of this world, and not that of Christ. Do you not foresee your own ruin coming for rejecting Christ because you seek the pleasures of this evil and adulterous generation like the Pharisees and Sadducees? For the believer, what are you seeking after today? Are you seeking the signs of this world or are you seeking the sings of being something or someone special – maybe a better person than you are now, maybe better finically, maybe a better worker at your job, or a better husband or father? Those are all good things, but if you seek them for the sake of this generation, for your own good and self righteousness you are no different from that what Christ calls an “evil and adulterous generation.” You have lost your focus upon God’s Great Sign, His Son. Not to please those here on earth, but to please an everlasting good and pure generation apart of this world.
For this is why Christ came, to save those in “an evil and adulterous generation.” Unbeliever may you come to know Christ, who He is, what He has done and what He is doing in His Church today. Believer, may you today take refuge in Christ, what Christ has already done and accomplished for you, and rejoice that you are apart of what He is doing today in His Church.