Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin.
Book 2: Of the knowledge of God the Redeemer, in Christ, as first manifested to the fathers, under the law, and thereafter to us under the gospel.
Chapter 1: “Through Fall of Adam, the Human Race Made Accursed”
Section 4: Given the repercussions from the fall, Calvin then investigates the fall itself and the type of sin that brought down the human race. He concludes that God’s command to not eat of the one tree in the center of the garden, while affording him the opportunity to eat of every other tree was a test of Adam’s faith. If his faith in God was complete, then he would have refused eat the forbidden fruit. As it is with all things in relation to God, our faith that He is who He says He is and that His rule and commands are absolute are the apex upon which humanity rests. Thus Adam’s sin as revealed in his lack of faith as the federal head of mankind we now live in perpetual sin, waiting on salvation through God alone. That precludes that we trust that God is the only one who can save us (as He is the offended party) and that we trust that His salvation is complete. This means that our faith in Christ is the antidote to Adam’s sin.
Infidelity (lit. lack of faith or unfaithful) is what caused the fall of mankind. More simply stated, Adam refused to accept the word of God over his own estimation of the facts presented to him. Calvin clearly states the issue when he says, “Assuredly, when the word of God is despised, all reverence for Him is gone”. From this infidelity spring ambition and pride. Ambition in that we now are led to follow our own council and pride in that we now merely trust in ourselves to determine the best course of action. Combine those with ingratitude for all that we have been given by our sovereign creator and the basis for all sin against God is complete. Adam’s sin against God was an affront against his creator, supplanting his own wisdom with that of God’s, rejecting God’s sovereign rule over his life and decisions. His prideful self-estimation of his abilities to determine the best course of action led him to, by taking the fruit and eating from it, state that God was not only wrong to refuse him that honor, but to imply that God was malicious in his intent to keep man at a lesser state than himself. Calvin concludes, “infidelity opened the door to ambition, and ambition was the parent of rebellion, man casting off the fear of God, and giving free vent to his lust.”
Section 5: God said that if Adam and his wife would eat of the fruit they would die, yet they did not die immediately. Why is this? Calvin states that Adam’s spiritual life (as with our own) consisted in remaining united and bound to his Maker, so the separation which comes from sin killed his soul. What does this have to do with us if Adam was the one who sinned? His sin damned the whole of creation (Rom 8:20, 22) because we are all children of our father. Calvin clarifies this stating, “Therefore, since through man’s fault a curse has extended above and below, over all the regions of the world, there is nothing unreasonable in its extending to all his offspring. After the heavenly image in man was effaced, he not only was himself punished by a withdrawal of the ornaments in which he had been arrayed—viz. wisdom, virtue, justice, truth, and holiness, and by the substitution in their place of those dire pests, blindness, impotence, vanity, impurity, and unrighteousness, but he involved his posterity also, and plunged them in the same wretchedness.” This is where we get the term “original sin” in that the sin which Adam committed as the federal head of mankind was performed for everyone who was ever to come. Calvin then goes into detail refuting the Pelagian heresy which states that we are born “good” but adopt a life of sin which can lead to damnation but that we, outside of God’s diving guidance, can choose a life of purity and save ourselves. Scripture is very clear that this is not the case and using Calvin’s own words of conclusion, “All of us, therefore, descending from an impure seed, come into the world tainted with the contagion of sin. Nay, before we behold the light of the sun we are in God’s sight defiled and polluted. “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? Not one,” says the Book of Job (Job 14:4).”
Section 6: Adam’s sin is the root of all corruption within the race of man. Jesus, however, who was not fathered by Adam, escapes this inheritance of damnation (Rom 5:19-21). Continuing his assault on the Pelagian heresy, he breaks down their assumption that the sin of Adam is merely us imitating his sin in our own lives. Through the use of the referenced verse in that through Adam all sin and therefore in Christ all are saved, the Pelagian view must be that we must imitate Christ to obtain our salvation. This is preposterous. Calvin puts the final nail in the coffin for the Pelagian heresy when he states, “Accordingly, the relation subsisting between the two is this, As Adam, by his ruin, involved and ruined us, so Christ, by his grace, restored us to salvation.” For scriptural proof of this concept he turns to 1 Cor 15:22, driving the point of original sin home with Eph 2:3 (all are by nature children of wrath), and my favorite paraphrase of John 3:6, “that which is born of the flesh is fleshy”. Outside of Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf, outside of God acting in our favor despite our actions, intentions, and thoughts, we are all damned. Regeneration through Christ is our only hope.
Section 7: As to when the soul becomes corrupt, it is a mystery which belongs only to God in that we cannot find this out by our own investigation. We see it, however, clearly exposed on young children that their hearts are bent toward evil in their actions and words. Godly parents can help to contribute to the holiness of their children, but this is not an imparted holiness by their perceived inherent goodness, but a grace of God – a blessing – and it does not “prevent the primary and universal curse of the whole race from previously taking effect.”