In the mid-1940's Arthur W. Pink told my grandfather that one of the most neglected doctrines in evangelical Christianity was the doctrine of Federal Representation. Later in his book "The Sovereignty of God," Pink made the same observation in the form of a footnote.
I don't think things have changed much in the last sixty years. It is rare to hear a message on representation in our modern day, which is unfortunate, because it forms the heart of the good news as revealed in Scripture.
The Doctrine of Representation simply means that Adam stood before God in the place of, and on behalf of, every human being. Because of Adam's one act of disobedience against God, every human being is condemned by God.
I. Adam’s represention of mankind in the garden is clearly Biblical . . .
The main emphasis of Romans 5 is to prove that God judges us all for Adam’s sin. "Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned" (Romans 5:12).
Grammatically, the Greek verb “sinned” in verse 12 is in the aorist tense. This tense normally refers to an act that took place in the past at a single point in time. Grammatically, then, “all sinned” most naturally refers to a single past historical event (Adam’s sin). In other words, Adam’s sin was my sin because I was "in Adam," both physically (his loins) and spiritually (as my representative before God).
“Adam’s sin is as truly ours as it was his, but not sin in the same sense. It was his sin personally; it is our sin because we were in him,” Robert Haldane.
This is why every person dies --- Because of Adam's sin. This is easily seen in the death of infants. Infants who have never had any actual personal sin will sometimes die in infancy. They die, as does anyone else who dies, as a result of God's judgment for the sin of the first man.
II. Adam’s representation of mankind in the garden is hardly radical.
Remember, representation means “to act or stand in the place of.” Our political structure in this great country is built on representation. We elect people to “act or stand in the place of us in Washington” (we call it “The House of Representatives”). When our representatives make a decision, we live with the consequences.
Adam gives death to those he represents. “When Adam sinned, we were all constituted, classified, and condemned as sinners” A.W. Pink.
There are some who object to Adam's representation by saying:
(1). I don’t like the very concept of representation!
Response: You do too! You use representation all the time. You use people with skill and knowledge to represent you in medicine, in the courtroom, in
politics, and in sports. You like representation when it works! People don't like Adam representing them before God because he failed, which leads them to say. .
(2). I don’t like God’s choice of Adam as my representative!
Response: Do you think you could have done better? God is not like King George. When the colonists cried, “No taxation without representation” the king gave them a representative --- his brother.
God gave us the absolute best representative possible, with every circumstance in his favor. “This only have I found, God made man (Adam) upright” (Ec. 7:29). To think we could have done better the first Adam is a sign of our pride.
(3). I don’t like that I'm punished with physical and spiritual (death) for the sin of Adam! The severe punishment does not seem to fit Adam's one act of disobedience. It's way too severe of a punishment.
Response: What makes a sin serious is the nature of the person against whom the sin is committed. For instance, you can lie to your neighbor and receive an angry letter, but if you lie to the President you can go to prison for treason. You can kill a deer and be praised as a good hunter, but if you kill a man you will be put death. The consequences of Adam's one act of disobedience against God should reveal to us the transcendent and supreme nature of God as compared to man.
The Bible teaches that in addition to the consequences of Adam's sin (death) being passed to every descendent of Adam, so also is the corruption of Adam's nature passed down. William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies , a story about Britain’s “best and brightest” boys being stranded from youth on an island during WWI, gives us a good understanding of Adam's corruption in his descendents. No one taught the boys how to sin against each other even to the point of murder; they were sinners and their sins naturally flowed from their hearts where no grace was restraining them.
We are sinners, condemned by God to death (both physical and spiritual), because of the disobedience of the first man --- Adam.
Now for the Good News . . .
III. Adam’s representation of mankind in the garden is certainly typical.
By typical I mean it is certainly a "type," for Adam (the first man) is a type of Christ (the last man). Why does the Bible call Adam and Christ the first and the last man respectively (I Cor. 15)?
In the courtroom of heaven there stands only two official representatives before God. The first Adam (Hebrew for ‘man’ ) --- “made by God from the virgin earth” and the last Adam (Jesus Christ) ---“who entered the world by the virgin birth.”
This is the gospel. God relates to man on the basis of only two representatives --- the first Adam and the last Adam.
Compare the two Adams:
(1). The uniqueness of their births --- both bodies formed by God without a human father.
(2). Their temptations from Satan in the garden and in the wilderness --- the first Adam had it all going for him. He had a lush world, a helpmate, a heart inclined toward righteousness, and a world to enjoy. The last Adam was tempted in a barren wilderness, all alone, with the weight of the sinful world on his shoulders.
(3). The sin of one first Adam brought death to all he represented, but the obedience of the last Adam brought life to those He represented (believers, the church, the elect, the redeemed, etc . . .).
(4). The first Adam died because he deserved it, but the last Adam died without sin --- as the representive for His people, "Who who knew no sin became sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in him" (II Cor. 5:21).
Just as I am condemned for the disobedience of the first Adam, I am given eternal life because of the personal obedience of the last Adam.
The power of the gospel is seen in the doctrine of representation. Without an understanding of representation, we lose the good news. Pelagius and Augustine were theologians who lived in the 5th century AD. Pelagius said that we are “sinners because we sin," whereas Augustine said, “we sin because we are sinners (by the sin of Adam)." Pelagius taught that people sin by imitating Adam’s example and people are made righteous by imitating Christ’s example. Augustine proclaimed the gospel --- we are condemened by one man's disobedience and delivered by another Man's obedience.
Charles Hodge wrote about the importance of understanding representation when he said in his Commentary on Romans, "To teach that we are condemned for our inherent depravity, to the exclusion of Adam’s sin, necessitates that we are justified for our inherent goodness, to the exclusion of Christ, which destroys all hope of heaven.”
We are called "believers" because we believe God has delivered us through the representative work of His Son on behalf of sinners.
(1). To deny the historicity of the Genesis account of Adam and Eve is ultimately a denial of the gospel itself, for the gospel is only understood in terms of representation.
(2). To preach the gospel is not so much preaching what it is we are to do, but rather, what it is we are to believe. The good news is something proclaimed, not something created.
(3). On your death bed, representation will be your only hope. No man has ever reviewed his life and found complete satisfaction. Every man has failed with multiple shortcomings. Christ's representation of us before God is the good news. To understand you are condemned for the sin of one man will only help you comprehend that you are saved by the obedience of another man.
The question may be asked, "But whom did Christ represent?" That question can be answered one of two ways. From the divine perspective He represented the people whom God the Father had given Him (John 17), but from the human perspective He represents only those who will trust in Him. Only the divine answer will bring comfort to parents whose children die in infancy, trusting that God gave to Christ those infants who die in infancy, and that Christ represented them in His life and in His death, for they never had personal faith in Christ. Nevertheless, they are still judged for the first Adam's sin (this is why they die). It is my personal belief that all infants who die in infancy are part of the elect of God and receive the blessings of Christ's obedience (this was also the view of Gill, Spurgeon, Whitefield, and other 18th and 19th Century Baptist theologians).
Calvin wrote in his commentary on Romans: “Paul makes grace common to all men, not because it in fact extends to all, but because it is offered to all. Although Christ suffered for the sins of the world, and is offered by the goodness of God without distinction to all men, yet not all receive him.”
I encourage you to place your trust in Christ alone, to only trust Christ, and to realize that your deliverance is solely by God's grace through faith in Christ Jesus.
Sola fide, sola Christos, sola gratia.
When Satan tempts me to despair,and tells me of the guilt within, upward I look, and see him there, who made an end of all my sin.
Because the sinless Savior died, my sinful soul is counted free; for God the just is satisfied, to look on him and pardon me.
In His Grace,