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Westminster Shorter Catechism Project

A Commentary
on the
Shorter Catechism

Alexander Whyte

Q. 16. Did all mankind fall in Adam's first transgression?
A. The covenant being made with Adam, not only for himself, but for his posterity; all mankind, descending from him by ordinary generation, sinned in him, and fell with him, in his first transgression.

The covenant—See Answer 12

Adam—A Hebrew word signifying red, ground colour. But the generic term Adam becomes in the case of the first man a denominative. The name may possibly have been given to embody the history of his creation. Some scholars hold, on the other hand, that the name comes from a similar Hebrew root, meaning likeness; and that the allusion consequently is to the divine fiat: "Let us make man after our likeness."

not only for himself, but for his posterity—" With Adam as a publick person" (Larger Catechism). Read Rom. v. 12-19. "God made and appointed Adam to be a public person, yet not so out of mere will, but that it had also for its foundation so natural and necessary a ground, as it was rather a natural than a voluntary thing. . . . Now the natural necessity upon which this designation of him to be a public person was made is this: God had, as the author of nature, made this law of nature, that man should beget in his image or likeness. . . . So then, in this first man the whole nature of man being reposited, therefore what befalls this nature in him by any action of his, that nature is to be propagated from him" (Goodwin).

by ordinary generation—This exception is taken because of the extraordinary generation of our Lord in His incarnation. His birth was so ordered by God that He was the Son of man, one of the human race, and yet that the entail of original sin did not embrace Him. God, in ways we cannot fathom, but at the same time in ways that show us that a singular exception was here made to the otherwise universal traduction of original sin, sent His Eternal Son in our nature, and yet did not send Him through Adam. The birth of Christ was rather a creation of a new humanity than a propagation and sanctification of the old. His flesh was the flesh of Adam's race, sanctified and united to the personality of the Son of God. Adam was the type of Christ, but he was not His father.

"The man Christ was not included in that representation which Adam made as head of the covenant of works (1 Corinthians 15:22, 45); and that, because Christ came not in virtue of the blessing of fruitfulness, given while the covenant of works stood entire, but in virtue of a special promise made after it was broken (Genesis 1:28; 3:15). Adam's sin, then, could not be imputed to the man Christ, since Adam did not represent Him in the covenant" (Boston).

"The formation of His human nature was the effect of miraculous, supernatural creating power; therefore he was no more liable to Adam's sin, as being man, than a world of men would be, should God create them out of the dust of the ground, which would be no more miraculous or supernatural than it was to form the human nature of Christ in the womb of the Virgin. Now, as Jesus, so formed, would not be concerned in Adam's sin, or fall, whatever similitude there might be of nature; even so our Saviour was not concerned therein" (Ridgley).

all mankind. . . sinned in him—That is to say, we were so in Adam that what he did we did, not indeed as to the act, but as to its consequences. Human life is full of this vicarious, solidary way of acting and suffering, and this was the first and most terrible example of it. "To be guilty of Adam's sin, meant in the Latin anthropology, to be guilty of the Adamic sin. It implied the oneness of Adam and his posterity, and a guilt that belonged to the sum total, only because the sin was the act of the sum total" (Shedd). There are three very powerful and exhaustive articles on Imputation in the first series of the Princeton Essays. But see any high-class Calvinistic or Puritan theologian on Adam in relation to the human race. See under Imputation in any sound system of theology. Consult under Question 33.

fell with him—" Fell with him in that first transgression" (Larger Catechism). "O thou Adam, what hast thou done? For though it was thou that sinned, thou art not fallen alone, but we all that come of thee" (2 Esdr. 7:48; Romans 5).

"Both death and I
Are found eternal, and incorporate both;
Nor I on my part single, in me all
Posterity stands curst. Fair patrimony
That I must leave ye, sons! "—MILTON.

"It is improper to say, Adam's eating of the forbidden fruit was personally and inherently an act of mine. It was personally his, and imputatively mine: personally his, because he did it; imputatively mine, because I was then in him. Indeed, the effects of his personal eating is found in my person; to wit, defilement and pravity" (Bunyan).

in his first transgression. Those divines who go most deeply into these matters, believe that they have sufficient scriptural and theological ground for holding that Adam's headship ceased with his fall. See Romans 5:18, Revised Version.

"Our very nature is sinful. Herein is the importance of the doctrine of original sin. It is very humbling, and as such the only true introduction to the preaching of the gospel. Men do not like to be told that the race from which they spring is degenerate. We know how ashamed men are of being low born or discreditably connected. This is the sort of shame forced upon every son of Adam. ‘Thy first father hath sinned' is the legend on our forehead" (Newman).


1. Explain and illustrate the phrases common person and public person.

2. Draw out and establish Dr. Cunningham's position, that the doctrine of the Catechism here alone explains and accounts for "phenomena which actually exist."

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