To a dead man, the whole cosmos is dead. The light is dead light. The bread is dead bread. The wine is dead wine. The ground is dead. The sky is dead. The world is dead. His eyes are dead. His limbs are dead. His blood is dead. His lungs are dead. His mind is dead. His heart is dead. No matter how invigorating the fresh spring wind blows, or how sensual the perfume of a lovely woman, or how unctuous the cheese platter, or how smooth the brew, or how soft the pillow on which his dead head rests, it is all deadness to a dead man. From top to bottom, mountain to sea, earth to heavens: the cosmos is dead to him.
Midas got what he thought was an unrivaled gift, and it turned out to be the most miserable of curses. He wished for the touch of gold, and soon found that the metallic world he created was a lifeless, tasteless, friendless cacophony of burnished echoes. This 8th century BC myth, like most pagan myths, carries in it the memory of the true myth of creation, fall, flood, and redemption. It remembers that Serpent of old who tempted Adam & Eve to take hold of what God had forbidden. Their sin resulted in a catastrophic fall into death, and they took the world with them. The world, and all the radiant life which God had filled the earth with, was suddenly dead, even while it maintained some semblance of life. It was as if everything their dead hearts touched had turned to black marble.
This is how mankind’s story begins: a king and a queen in a garden, being deceived by a dragon to obtain power that would actually be their demise. They took the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and quickly found that the spiritual life which they had enjoy and would have been glorified––had they resisted Satan’s temptings––was taken from them and everything they touched was suddenly turned–not to gold–but to death. So, the story of the Bible, is not a story of a mean Old Testament God and a kind New Testament God; rather, it is a story of the first Adam bringing death upon himself and all his race, and God’s glorious work to restore life to mankind, through the second Adam, Christ.
The Inheritance of Death Which Adam Left His Offspring
The Westminster Confession says of God’s covenant with Adam: “The first covenant made with man was a covenant of works, wherein life was promised to Adam; and in him to his posterity, upon condition of perfect and personal obedience.”1Hodge, A.A. The Westminster Confession: A Commentary. Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2013. pg. 120 Westminster calls this covenant one of “works”, but some prefer to call it the covenant of life, or the covenant of creation, so as to distinguish it from the connotation of works righteousness.2 Wilson, Douglas. Westminster systematics: comments and notes on the Westminster Confession. Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2014. pg. 58 So, in Eden, God made a covenant with Adam, which if he had persevered would have secured to him, and his posterity, eternal life; instead, by sinning, Adam brought upon himself, and his seed after him, spiritual death.
Adam’s fall into death is of vital importance for us to be on firm footing theologically, when it then comes to having a biblical understanding of justification. This is of Gospel importance. We must on one side avoid the error of Rome, which teaches that though Adam’s fall affected human nature, “human nature has not been totally corrupted: it is wounded in the natural powers proper to it, subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death, and inclined to sin.”3Catechism of the Catholic Church. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1994.
Note two things here, Rome teaches that man is “not totally corrupted” and that he is instead merely “inclined to sin”. Rather than the Apostle Paul’s teaching that in us “dwelleth no good thing” (Rom. 7:18), and that we are dead in our sins (Eph. 2:5); furthermore, the words of Genesis 6:5 make it plain that man was not merely demoted from his place of favor with God, which he had in Eden, but that sin’s deadly poison now tainted man in every aspect: “every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Adam’s fall brought upon his race total corruption, and not just an inclination to sin, but a broken nature which could only sin (meaning our depravity even taints the relatively good things which we do).
On the other hand, much modern evangelical teaching wrongly splits the Bible in half and teaches about how law and grace are at odds with each other, pointing to verses like Romans 6:14, “ye are not under the law, but under grace.” This leads to thinking that God was in a bad mood in the Old Testament, and then Jesus came along and everything got happy again. This thinking deprives Christians of seeing the grace of God throughout history; that after Adam’s sad and ruinous fall, God instituted a new covenant with mankind, and that covenant has always been a gracious covenant, and it has been, in essence, one covenant. There is not a line down the middle of the Bible separating moody, brooding God from gentle Jesus, meek & mild God. Rather, there is a line running through the human race: those who are dead spiritually (often called the reprobate, or those under Adam), and those whom God has freely chosen to bring to life, and thus enjoy the blessings of this covenant (rightly called the elect, who are in Christ).
After the fall, God made a new covenant with man, renewing it often (Noah, Abraham, Moses, David). This was a covenant of grace from the very beginning, and as God revealed more and more of His redemptive purposes it became evident that though through revelation (both natural & special) God was continually declaring his covenant of grace to mankind, man was incapable of hearing, because he was spiritually dead.
This highlights the reality that to the elect the whole universe is alive and brimming with vibrant glory; but unto the reprobate, it is all dead. As already said, God’s covenant with man has always been a gracious covenant; in fact, the Mosaic law, which we often equate with Pharisaical legalism, was grace. We see this wonderfully stated in Leviticus 18:5, “Ye shall therefore keep my statutes, and my judgments: which if a man do, he shall live in them: I am the LORD.” As well as in Romans 7:12, “Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.”
The problem, then, does not rest in the covenant of grace as renewed in the Law of Moses, but rather in the blindness of man’s heart, because unregenerate men are blind the way a dead man is blind. Paul wonderfully makes this point in 2 Corinthians 4:4, “In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.”
John Piper, commenting on this verse, says, “People who don’t believe in Christ are blind. They can’t see Christ as supremely valuable, and so they won’t receive him as their Treasure and so they are not saved. A work of God is needed in their lives to open eyes and give them life so they can see and receive Christ as Savior and Lord and Treasure of their lives. That work of God is called the new birth.” We must make it clear that man’s condition is born in sin, under Adam, and thus “when Jesus tells us that we must be born again, he is telling us that our present condition is hopelessly unresponsive, corrupt, and guilty.”4Piper, John. Finally alive: what happens when we are born again. (Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus, 2009), pgs. 178 & 26
Some may wonder why all mankind (not just Adam) is brought into this condition. Adam, being the head of the human race, could bestow upon his posterity, only the highest nature he was able to; had he persevered and remained faithful and obedient to the covenant of creation, he would have been granted eternal life5For a further discussion on this: G. K. Beale, A New Testament biblical theology: the unfolding of the Old Testament in the New (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011), 39-46., and thus he could have given unto his offspring this too. However, since he plunged into the black darkness of sin’s death, the most he could bestow upon them was his spiritually dead nature.
This is strong language, that causes our romantic sensibilities to reach for the smelling salts of pop-psychology; we cannot bear the thought of being entirely incapable of helping ourselves. But this is the clear teaching of Scripture: we are born dead men. Jonathan Edwards is especially memorable on this: “since Adam, the head of mankind, the root of that great tree with many branches springing from it, was deprived of original righteousness, the branches should come forth without it.”6Jonathan Edwards, The works of Jonathan Edwards, ed. Edward Hickman (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1974), 219. Thus, Adam would have been endowed with righteousness with which to impart to his offspring, had he remained faithful; but as it was, his sinful nature and consequent deadness was all the inheritance he could give his children.
Again, all this is to show that mankind’s nature, in Adam, is dead; and as such, the problem is not a bipolar God (mean in the OT, nice in the NT), but in our spiritual deadness. God brings to life, and to those whom He quickens, the whole of Scripture is grace. But to the damned even the Gospel is the heaviest of millstones, which will forever sink them deeper into the lake of fire. Martin Luther, in his famous engagement with Erasmus on free-will, drives this home:
‘[…] not only all the words of law stand against “Free-will,” but also, that all the words of the promise utterly confute it; that is, that, the whole Scripture makes directly against it. Hence, you see, this word, “I desire not the death of a sinner,” does nothing else but preach and offer divine mercy to the world, which none receive with joy and gratitude but those who are distressed and exercised with the fears of death, for they are they in whom the law has now done its office, that is, in bringing them to the knowledge of sin. But they who have not yet experienced the office of the law, who do not yet know their sin nor feel the fears of death, despise the mercy promised in that word.’7Luther, Martin, J. I. Packer, and O. R. Johnston. The bondage of the will. (Old Tappan, NJ: Revell, 1957), Section LXIII.
Luther, here, asserts that man’s will is under bondage to sin, not “free” to do whatever it feels like, thus being able to obtain favor with God. On the contrary, man is unable to earn this favor, and all his efforts are, as Isaiah would have it, “filthy rags” (Is. 64:6). However, notice how Luther points out that to awakened sinners (i.e. the regenerate/elect), the law itself is a mercy; but those who are yet dead in their sins “despise the mercy promised”. Those born again see the covenant of grace everywhere, and in everything; but to the lost, the glory is hidden, because their heart is dead.
Anselm puts it like this in his Cur Deus Homo: “And when man could have easily effected this (i.e. not yielding to [the devil’s] temptation, and so to vindicate the honor of God and put the devil to shame) he, without compulsion and of his own accord, allowed himself to be brought over to the will of the devil, contrary to the will and honor of God.”8Anselm of Canterbury. “Proslogium; Monologium; An Appendix in Behalf of the Fool by Gaunilon; and Cur Deus Homo.” Proslogium; Monologium; An Appendix in Behalf of the Fool by Gaunilon; and Cur Deus Homo – Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Accessed December 17, 2016. https://www.ccel.org/ccel/anselm/basic_works.vi.ii.xxii.html. Man’s will was brought under bondage to death, thus making, as previously stated, everything dead to him, unless and until God intervened to rescue him.
The Resurrection of Mankind in Christ
At creation, God breathed into man’s nostrils the breath of life (Gen. 2:7); and when Adam ate of the tree, it was as if all the air of life was sucked out. Man, as a bearer of the image of God, died that day and the image was marred, broken, shattered, and rendered lifeless & powerless. Nothing man could do would ever be able to regain that life, because mankind was now spiritually dead. It would only be by God breathing once more upon a man, that he would ever be able to experience life. The Puritan writer, Thomas Watson, describes man’s condition under Adam, “See in what a sad condition all unbelievers and impenitent persons are. As long as they continue in their sins they continue under the curse, under the first covenant. Faith entitles us to the mercy of the second covenant; but while men are under the power of their sins they are under the curse of the first covenant; and if they die in that condition, they are damned to eternity.”9Watson, Thomas. “Body of Divinity.” Body of Divinity – Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Accessed December 17, 2016. https://www.ccel.org/ccel/watson/divinity.vii.i.html.
This is the Midas-like death touch which Adam brought upon his progeny. He desired to be like God, even though he was already a son of God (Luk. 3:38), and bore God’s image; Adam rebelled against the truth that “the very act of creation brings the creature under obligation to the Creator, [and] creation itself”, as A.A. Hodge points out, “[was] a signal act of grace.”10Hodge, A.A. The Westminster Confession: A Commentary. Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2013. pg. 121 Adam ought to have obeyed perfectly, and said, “thank you,” but instead chose death. In his pursuit to become like God, and grasp at eternal life itself, he brought damnation.
It is man’s dead heart, not God’s covenant, which results in blindness to the glorious grace which is offered. The unregenerate man remains ungrateful (Rom. 1:21) for the very eyes, ears, mind, and heart which ought to see, hear, know and believe the truth of the Gospel; but because he is dead, it is all dead to him. It is indwelling unbelief and rebellion against God which makes the life-giving truth of the Gospel itself an aggravation to the unregenerate.
This is all to show that though mankind is naturally dead in sin, not merely destabilized as Romish doctrine would teach, God set about to resurrect Adam’s fallen race, by covenanting to save them. Dead men could not enter into this covenant, thus it was that God––in order to save them from the curse of breaking the first covenant––would need to create man anew and once more breathe life into them. Scripture calls this quickening, new birth, regeneration.
It wasn’t, as many modern evangelical Christians perhaps understand it, God was a strict authoritarian, obsessed with squishing mankind for breaking all his rules, until Jesus came along and bartered a peace deal. This line of thinking leads many Protestant Christians to misunderstand Salvation itself, because they think that in the Old Testament you had to watch your “p’s & q’s”, or else you’d catch a lightning bolt to the cranium. This brings the assumption that Jesus sort of just convinced God to stop caring so much about all those dusty, old rules. This sort of thinking, often called antinomianism, actually undermines the redeeming work of Christ and our very faith.
As Charles Hodge wisely observed, “The Scriptures know nothing of any other than two methods of attaining eternal life: the one that which demands perfect obedience, and the other that which demands faith.”11Hodge, Charles. Systematic theology. Vol. II. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975. pg. 117 Unless God’s covenant (i.e. the Law), is perfectly obeyed by each individual, eternal life is forever out of our reach. Thus, all the Old Testament administrations were not about law but about grace; because by often renewing His covenant with man, God was revealing that man’s failure to obey was leading up to the Last Adam––Jesus Christ. He would be a man who could perfectly obey the covenant (the one means of obtaining eternal life), and offering the benefit of his “power of endless life” (Heb. 7:16) unto all who, by faith, trust in His entire obedience as the ground of their eternal life (the second means of obtaining eternal life).
If we chop the Bible in half, we end up missing the fact that, as A.A. Hodge demonstrates, “the covenant of grace has from the beginning remained in all essential respects the same, in spite of all outward changes in the mode of its administration. […] Christ is the Saviour of men before his advent, and he saved them on the same principles then as now. […] Faith is the condition of salvation under the old dispensation in the same sense it is now.”12Hodge, A.A. The Westminster Confession: A Commentary. Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2013. pg. 129. It is a dead heart that makes whatever it touches, not just the law, but also the Gospel of grace, into a pile of Midas’ golden fruit.
However, it is only by conversion, i.e. regeneration, that God brings man to life again, and by faith enables him to taste of the bounteous banquet of eternal life which He offers. When this new birth happens, by the operation of the Holy Spirit, the Christian comes to cherish the whole of Scripture, and in a sense, experiences the reverse of Midas’ touch.
Everything God’s grace touches becomes alive with Christ’s eternal, abundant life. Our eyes are made living eyes to see His glory. Our ears are made living ears to hear his truth. Our mind is made a living mind to understand & know Him. Our heart is made a living heart to cherish, love, believe and obey Him. Suddenly, where all was once death and deadness to us, the whole of creation becomes alive to us, and groans in anticipation of our final glorification at the appearing of the Lord Jesus (Rom. 8:22-23).
It is by understanding the death which Adam brought upon us by breaking the covenant of life in Eden, which allows us to see that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself (2 Cor. 5:19), through the covenant of grace. From Genesis 3:15 onward, “[God] entered into a covenant of grace to deliver the elect out of that state [of misery], and to bring them into a state of grace by a Redeemer.”13Watson, Thomas. “Body of Divinity.” Body of Divinity – Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Accessed December 17, 2016. https://www.ccel.org/ccel/watson/divinity.vii.i.html. The redeemed see that covenant of grace everywhere, those dead in their sins are utterly incapable of seeing it at all. The Old Testament declares Christ to us, the New Testament reveals Christ to us. The dead man is dead to it; but the man made alive by faith, through the regenerating work of the Spirit of God, hears it, sees it, and tastes it; because he is alive in Christ.
Luther portrays this wonderful truth quite vividly, and is a perfect summary of all we’ve been looking at, “when the devil tells us we are sinners and therefore damned, we may answer, ‘because you say I am a sinner, I will be righteous and saved.’ Then the devil will say, ‘No, you will be damned.’ And I will reply, ‘No, for I fly to Christ who has given himself for my sins. Therefore, Satan, you will not prevail against me when you try to terrify me by telling me how great my sins are and try to reduce me to heaviness, distrust, despair, hatred, contempt and blasphemy. On the contrary, when you say I am a sinner, you give me armor and weapons against yourself, so that I can cut your throat with your own sword and tread you under my feet, for Christ died for sinners. Moreover, you yourself preach God’s glory to me, for you remind me of God’s fatherly love toward me, that “he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16). And whenever you object that I am a sinner, you remind me of the benefit of Christ my Redeemer.’”14Luther, Martin. Galatians. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1998. pg. 41. Thus we see that to a man which is in Christ, the whole cosmos is made alive to him, and he sees the Savior at every turn and every temptation, and joyfully longs for the glorification to come at the end of time.
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|↑1||Hodge, A.A. The Westminster Confession: A Commentary. Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2013. pg. 120|
|↑2||Wilson, Douglas. Westminster systematics: comments and notes on the Westminster Confession. Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2014. pg. 58|
|↑3||Catechism of the Catholic Church. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1994.|
|↑4||Piper, John. Finally alive: what happens when we are born again. (Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus, 2009), pgs. 178 & 26|
|↑5||For a further discussion on this: G. K. Beale, A New Testament biblical theology: the unfolding of the Old Testament in the New (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011), 39-46.|
|↑6||Jonathan Edwards, The works of Jonathan Edwards, ed. Edward Hickman (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1974), 219.|
|↑7||Luther, Martin, J. I. Packer, and O. R. Johnston. The bondage of the will. (Old Tappan, NJ: Revell, 1957), Section LXIII.|
|↑8||Anselm of Canterbury. “Proslogium; Monologium; An Appendix in Behalf of the Fool by Gaunilon; and Cur Deus Homo.” Proslogium; Monologium; An Appendix in Behalf of the Fool by Gaunilon; and Cur Deus Homo – Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Accessed December 17, 2016. https://www.ccel.org/ccel/anselm/basic_works.vi.ii.xxii.html.|
|↑9, ↑13||Watson, Thomas. “Body of Divinity.” Body of Divinity – Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Accessed December 17, 2016. https://www.ccel.org/ccel/watson/divinity.vii.i.html.|
|↑10||Hodge, A.A. The Westminster Confession: A Commentary. Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2013. pg. 121|
|↑11||Hodge, Charles. Systematic theology. Vol. II. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975. pg. 117|
|↑12||Hodge, A.A. The Westminster Confession: A Commentary. Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2013. pg. 129.|
|↑14||Luther, Martin. Galatians. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1998. pg. 41.|