1) Whether Posterity be Guilty of Death, by Reason of the Actual Sins of their Immediate Parents?

As little as is said by divines on this question, it is no over-curious or needless unprofitable subject, but weighty and needful to be understood by all Christians that can reach to the understanding of it. For as it is useful for the opening cause and nature of original guilt, so, if it should prove true that we are guilty by the sins of our immediate parents, it would be necessary that we know it, for our due humiliation, and that we may in penitent confessions and deprecations prevail with God for the pardon thereof. As it is thought a dangerous thing to deny original sin, because they that so do, will not be humbled under it, and sensible of their misery by it, nor of the necessity of God’s mercy, or Christ’s blood for the pardon of it, nor will apply themselves to God by Christ in faith, confession, and prayer for pardon, and consequently are in danger of missing of pardon, so in the present case, the same reasons will prove it as well dangerous to deny our guilt of our parents’ sins, if, indeed, we are so guilty. Which that we may inquire into, after a very brief explication of the terms of the questions, I shall lay down a few necessary distinctions, and then assert what I judge to be the truth in certain propositions, and prove such of them as most require proof.

1. By [immediate parents], we mean those that personally beget: by [posterity] we mean their children begotten. By reason of [actual sin], we mean, by the merit of those sins which our parents themselves committed, or by a resultancy from such sin compared with the rule. By guilt, we mean obligation to punishment. By death, we mean the destruction, or final misery of the creature, either death temporal or eternal.

We must distinguish:

1. Between the seminar, causal, potential, and virtual being which we have in our parents, and the personal existence that we have in ourselves;
2. Between the guilt which immediate results from actual sin, and the guilt, which rises but mediately from it, viz., by the means of some intervening corruption of our own;
3. Between the sins of parents while we are seminally in them, and their sins after our birth, either, 1. in our infancy, or 2, in our riper age;
4. Between guilt and fault, and guilt of punishment;
5. Between the aggravation of voluntariness actual, and of voluntariness habitual, or depositive;
6. Between plenary proper guilt, and guilt so-called by analogy of attribution, and guilt so-called equivocally;
7. Between punishment univocally, analogically, and equivocally so-called;
8. Between obligation to the pain of loss, and to the pain of sense;
9. And between the mere sense of that loss, and the sensible accusations of conscious for actual sin;
10. Between the curable obligation of the Law of Nature, or Works, and the peremptory and remediless obligation of the Law of Grace.

Though these distinctions reach further than the terms of the Question, yet are they such as will be necessary use in our determination.

Prop. 1. God does not impute to us the sins either of our first or nearest parents further than our true interest in such sins does give sufficient ground for such imputation.

As Dr. Twiss, among others, has oft well proved.

Prop. 2. God does not esteem us to have personally committed the sins of our first or nearest progenitors did actually commit. For his judgement is true, and, therefore, he judges of things as they are, and, therefore, he judges us not to have done that personally, which we did not do.

Prop. 3. God does not by any Law oblige us to punishment, as the personal committers of such sins, which any progenitors of ours did commit, and not we, and, therefore, we are not guilty of punishment on that account. He never made such a covenant with Adam, or any sense, as some imagine, wherein he declared that he will judge the posterity guilty of the parents’ sin further than their true desert or interest in it, merely because God will so judge, or because he will impute of one to another, without his desert, that were to make him the causer of such men’s sins, or rather to mistake, and call that their sin which, indeed, is not so.

Prop. 4. It seems to me that in the same kind as we are guilty of Adam’s actual sin, we are also guilty of the sins of our nearest parents, allowing for some accidental differences, and also our guilt having a remedy at hand, which his had not that he knew of, we being under a pardoning covenant. Because this proposition is not agreeable to the common opinion, I shall speak to the proof of it, and of some that are near to it, anon towards the end.

Prop. 5. If it should prove true, which some of the Reformed divines maintain, that original sin does consist only in the real qualitative corruption of our nature, and not directly in any imputation of Adam’s actual sin to us, and that there is no such direct imputation of his sin to us, but that it is only the cause of our proper Original sin, and not our sin formally, then it must needs follow that the like must be said for the negative, of the sins of our immediate parents, for they can be no more our sins than Adam’s was. If this opinion, therefore, stand good, then our controversy is at an end, and we are not guilty of Adam’s sin, or of our next parents, nor of death for them. I will not presume to make myself judge between the learned divines that disagree upon this point, Cameron and his followers go this way, against the imputation of Adam’s sin to us, of which we see the sum of their arguments in Jos. Placæus his Disput. De statu hominus lapsi ante Gratiam in lib 1. Thesium Salmureins. pag. 206, 207. And Chamier is not only of the same mind, but confutes the contrary among the Popish errors, as you may see in his Tom. 3. lib. 1. cap. 7. against Pighius sect. 20, 21. but specially through chap. 8, contra Salmeronem. So also Peter Martyr, on Rom. 5. But yet so far greater number of our writers go the other way, as so do the Paptists too. Richard Baxter, Two Disputations of Original Sin (London: Printed for Robert Gibbs, at the Golden-Bull in Chancery-lane, 1675), 144-149. [Some reformatting; some spelling and sentence structure modernized; italics original; square brackets original; and, underlining mine.]

2) I shall now proceed to prove so much of the affirmative, as I have owned more than is now held, viz., That there arises to children from the sins of their nearest parents, such an imperfect guilt, so-called, by analogy of attribution, as that God may in vindictive justice inflict on them for the same, the penalty (so-called by the same analogy) both of temporal death, and of eternal, at least as to the penalty of loss, supposing that it be no pardoned through Christ.

And this I prove by these following arguments.

Arg. 1. If we are guilty of Adam’s first sin, on that account, because we were seminally in him, and are propagated from him, then we are guilty of nearer parents’ sins on the same account. But the antecedent is true, go.1 so is the consequent.

Here I suppose it granted that Adam’s first sin is imputed to us, and we are guilty of it, for I now deal not with those divines that deny it, but with those that maintain it.

For as I said before, if we are not guilty of Adam’s sin, then I must give up my cause, and confess that we are not guilty of the sins of our nearer parents. Supposing then the imputation of Adam’s sin to us, I must first prove that the reason of imputation is, because we are propagated from him and were seminally in him. 2. That on the same reason, we have the like guilt of near parents’ sins.

1. For the first, I may safely premise this, that as in all relations there must be a relate, correlate and foundation, and as to the disconformity of a crooked line from the rule, there must be a crookedness of the line, and the straightness of the rule, and as the rule will not give you ground to denominate the line disconform or crooked, unless it be truly so, there must be merit on man’s part, consisting in performance or some participation in the evil, before the Law (which is the rule) will judge him guilty. The Law is first the rule of duty, and then the rule of judgement. And it first shows them to be guilty of sin (reos culpe) before it show their obligation to punishment (reatum pænæ). This being so, it seems clear that the doctrine (of too many) that lay the chief or only cause of man’s guilt and punishment upon God’s covenant made with Adam that he should stand or fall for all his posterity, that is, as some expound it, that his desert of life or death should be imputed theirs, and as others, that if he sinned, he and his posterity should be guilty of death, and if he did not sin that first sin of eating the forbidden fruit, both he and his posterity should be confirmed in their happiness, as the good angels, and never fall afterward. And this covenant, say they, makes us guilty of Adam’s sin, though we have not a natural interest to make us guilty, and so God imputes it to us, not because it was ours before the imputation, but because he is pleased to make it ours by that imputation or by his covenant. That it is not the imputation or covenant that primarily makes us guilty, but determines us guilty of the fault who are so in ourselves, and consequently determines us guilty of punishment, I prove thus:

1. Else it should be God only or primarily that should make us sinners, and not we ourselves, nor our parents. But that’s most false: go. The consequence is most apparent. If a man be, therefore, a sinner, because God by his covenant or imputation says he is one, and not because he is first made one by himself, or parents, then God is the principal, if not the cause of sin.

2. Yea, then God should make a man a sinner by that Law whose essential nature is to prohibit and hinder sin.

3. Or else thus, God’s judgement (by Law or Sentence) is ever according to the truth of the thing, (He judges or pronounces the things to be as they are, not as they are not). But if he should determine or pronounce a man a sinner that is not, his judgement were according to truth, but he should make that which is false become true by judging it true, which is no tolerable conceit.

4. If it were without antecedent ground in us, that God’s covenant does judge or make us guilty of Adam’s sin (or God impute it to us), but merely because he will do it, then on the same reason might God have made or judged innocent Angels, or the Lord Jesus guilty of Adam’s sin, yea, he might have imputed it to the Sun or the Moon or any creature. For if real innocency secure not us from being made sinners by God, or reputed such, then it would not secure them. Or if God’s will to impute it be enough without interest to ground that imputation upon, then there is no difference, as to interest in that sin, between them and us. But that’s too gross a conceit to be defended.

5. There is no such covenant with Adam mentioned in Scripture, as lays the final standing of his posterity upon that first obedience of his, much less that determines that they shall be judged guilty for his sake, of more than they are guilty of indeed, by natural interest. The foundation of the relation is in ourselves.

I conclude, therefore, that it is most certain that there is in man some sufficient ground or cause why God’s Law should denominate or judge him guilty before it so do. And this cause can be no other than one of these two: either because we were seminally in Adam, and are his children, or because God making his covenant as Rector of all mankind, did make it upon supposition of a virtual consent contained in the very nature of man, and so supposing that what we ought to do, w should do, and that if all men had then existed, we ought to have consented to the venture our felicity upon Adam’s act, and to run the hazards of perishing with him, on condition we might be saved with him if he stand, and so such a supposed consent is the ground of our guilt. But, though I will not exclude the last ground, yet certainly it is upon a supposition of the former, or else it is none at all. For man was not to exist till the fall was past, and, therefore, could not be supposed to exist. And if God had decreed to create every individual person to the end of the world, of nothing, as he did with Adam, without derivation from him, what virtual consent can be supposed? Or on what ground should it be presupposed that we would all consent to live and die with him, any more than with the Angels that fell? Or any more than the good Angels might be supposed to consent to such a thing? I conclude, therefore, that the first ground of our interest in Adam’s sin, or our guilt of it, is our bing his off-spring, and then seminally in him, and next, that God might make one Law for him and all that should come of him, as supposing the equity of their consent, yet by that Law, he has no (that I know of) involved them in his first sin any more than in his second or third, nor offered them happiness merely on condition of his avoiding that first sin, whatsoever they should afterwards do themselves, or prevent all after sin.

2. It being then our natural interest that is the first ground of our guilt of Adam’s actual sin (so far as we are guilty), and we being truly the children of our nearer parents, as of him, and seminally in them as well as in him, it follows that we have the same natural interest in their sins as in his and, therefore, the same guilt, and reason why God should impute them to us, unless the change of Laws do make a difference, which if it do, it can be no more, than by adding the Law of Grace to that nature to remedy its obligations. For the nature of things being still the same, the Law of Nature still remains, and, therefore, children must now be naturally guilty of all parents’ sins, as well as then, before that guilt dissolved by remission. Though now God will not punish the adult merely for the parents’ sins imputed to us, yet he might do it if he would, supposing he had not by the Law of Grace determined the contrary, if it be proved it might do it then.

Moreover, as then God might suppose a civil interest in Adam’s sin (as we were parts-future of the same world or mankind), on presupposition of our natural interest (as his off-spring) so now (though our parents be not the root of mankind as Adam was, and that’s the main difference yet), seeing our nearest parents may be the root of families or other societies whereof God is also the Rector, he may suppose another sort of civil interest or guilt of their sins upon us. As he imputes Adam’s sin to us as he was Rector of all mankind, so may he our nearer parents as he is ruler of a family, or of some more remote, as ruler of a common-wealth. Richard Baxter, Two Disputations of Original Sin (London: Printed for Robert Gibbs, at the Golden-Bull in Chancery-lane, 1675), 172-179. [Some reformatting; some spelling and sentence structure modernized; italics original; and, underlining mine.]


1Go., short for ergo.

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