This is a selection from a SDA classic work called “The Atonement” by James Stephenson. It covers two of the pillars of the Christian faith, according to “Great Controversy”: the “fall of man” and the “atonement.”
It clearly delineates the two problems dealing with our salvation: Adams’s transgression with the resulting fallen nature we inherit and must overcome as well as personal transgression, which must be prevented. Atonement for personal sin was clearly not dealt with on the Cross. What was dealt with is Adam’s (original) sin, which could not be atoned for but for which a release was offered from the first death as well as the gift of probationary life preceding it. Christ died our second death at the Cross, but we cannot receive His righteousness until our personal transgressions are dealt with in the sanctuary.
I will now consider:-
II. The difficulties in the way of man’s salvation, which renders an atonement necessary. They are:-
1. The penalty of God’s law for Adamic, or original transgression.
2. The penalty for individual, or personal transgression.
To have clear views of the relation these penalties sustain to the atonement, it is of great importance that we understand, first, the relation they sustain to each other. They are denominated by some writers, a first and second death. But the terms first and second, are relative terms, pointing out the order in which the events specified occur. They are in all cases dependent on the supposed or actual existence of each other. A second supposes a first, and a first supposes a second. Death, being the negative of life, must be preceded by life, hence a first and second death must be preceded by a first and second life. It would, therefore, be just as proper to call the rewards of the gospel a first and second life, as to call the penalties of the law a first and second death. The same that would make these a first and second would those also. There must be two lives and two deaths, to make either a first or a second, But had not the scheme of redemption been devised, man would never have lived a second life, consequently, could never have died a second death. What, in such case, would the penalty have been for the sin of our first parents? Would it have been a first death? Nay, verily; because no second would ever succeed it; hence it could not be a first. But, from the fact that man is actually exposed to two deaths, we call the one that occurs first, a first death, and the one that occurs second, a second death, just as we speak of a first and second life, a first and second birth, and a first and second Adam, simply to denote their order, and not their nature.
The penalty of God’s law for original sin is death, (not a first death.) Mark the import of the language in which the first penalty is clothed! “For in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” “As in Adam all die,” etc. The penalty for personal sin is equally explicit. “The wages of sin is death.” (Not a second death, but simply death.) “Sin when finished bringeth forth death.” To illustrate: The penalty in the State of Illinois for murder is death. Now, suppose a man to be executed according to their law, then to be raised from the dead, and executed a second time, for another offense, would the fact of the same man’s being put to death a second time, make the penalty in that State, for murder, a first death? Certainly not. But, in case the same man should die a second time, it would be, in reference to its order, a first death.
Christ not having died a previous death, and not being exposed to a subsequent death, could die neither a first nor a second death, but, as the Scriptures plainly teach, “He died the death of the cross.” “For if when we were sinners, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son,” etc. Not a first, or a second death, but “the death.” This brings us to consider the difficulties in the way of man’s salvation:-
1. The penalty of the law of God for the sin of our first parents, or the death threatened Adam in the Garden of Eden. The investigation of the nature of this penalty properly belongs to another part of this subject. The actual existence of such a penalty, or the fact of man’s being exposed to death for Adam’s transgression, is all I propose investigating under this head.
God having created man, appointed to govern him by a just, wise, and holy law, the reward of which was eternal life the penalty of which was death. This reward and penalty was represented by two trees, i. e., the “tree of life,” and the “tree of knowledge of good and evil.” Man’s will was left free to choose the one and to refuse the other. Eating the fruit of these trees involved the great principles of obedience or disobedience; hence by eating of the fruit of the tree of life, Adam would have received the promised reward for obedience, which was eternal life; but, by eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he must suffer the penalty which was death. Gen. ii, 16, 17. “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it; for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” By this passage, we learn that the penalty of the law of God threatened Adam for was disobedience was death. But did Adam disobey? He did. Chap. iii, 1-14. Did he suffer the penalty? He did. Chap. v, 5. “And all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years; and he died.” Some may object to this view, because Adam did not die a literal death in the day he ate of the forbidden tree; he must, therefore, have died a spiritual death. This objection will be noticed in connection with the nature penalty threatened Adam.
But what relation do Adam’s posterity sustain to this penalty? Are they exposed to the same death? Ans. They are. To this, the whole Scriptures bear testimony. The decree has never been repealed, that “dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return.” Mark the doom of Adam’s immediate posterity. They shared their father’s fate. The record reads thus: “And all the days of Seth were nine hundred and twelve years; and he died.” “And all the days of Enos were nine hundred and five years; and he died.” “And all the days of Cainan were nine hundred and ten years; and he died.” “And all the days of Mahalaleel were eight hundred ninety and five years; and he died.” “And all the days of Jared were nine hundred sixty and two years; and he died.” “And all the days of Methuselah were nine hundred sixty and nine years; and he died.”
“And all the days of Lamech were seven hundred seventy and seven years; and he died.” Gen. v, 8-31. Noah died; [Chap. ix, 29;] Abraham, Isaac and Jacob died; [Chaps. xxv, 8; xxxv, 29; xlix, 33; Heb. xi, 13;] David, a man after God’s own heart, must also die; 1 Kings ii, 10; Acts ii, 29. Time would fail to speak of Joshua, Samuel, and all the Prophets, who died in the hope of a “better resurrection.” Heb. xi, 35. Job declares the grave to be the final destination of all living. “For I know that thou wilt bring me to death, and to the house appointed for all living.” Job xxx, 23.
The apostle Paul places the question beyond the possibility of a doubt: he plainly teaches that Adam’s sin involved his whole posterity in death. “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.” Rom. v, 12. Not that all have sinned “after the similitude of Adam’s transgression;” [verse 14;] but by, or through Adam, as our representative, all have sinned. Adam sinned personally, whereas, his posterity sinned by proxy, or by their representative. Adam, being the representative of the entire human race, as a natural consequence, entails his own nature and destiny upon all his posterity. Having, therefore, incurred a mortal, corruptible, dying nature, he entails the same nature upon the generations proceeding from him. Of course he could give his children no better nature than that which he himself possessed. Again, the same Apostle says, “For as in Adam all die:” [1 Cor. xv, 22:] thereby teaching that all mankind suffer the penalty threatened Adam in the garden of Eden.
a. Enoch and Elijah are excepted; and the righteous living at the Advent of our blessed Redeemer, will be exceptions to this statement, unless those did, and these will undergo a change equivalent to death. Who dare say they did not, and these will not?
b. The first penalty, or the death it inflicts, is unconditional. There were no conditions, or provisoes attached to the penalty. The language in which it is expressed, excludes the possibility of pardon, without setting the law and its penalty aside. “For in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” “For dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” It is inflexible; it must have the life of its victim.
c. It being unconditional, the righteous suffer it as well as the wicked; hence all die, (infants not excepted,) irrespective of moral character. “In Adam all die.”
d. This death being entailed upon the human family by their first parents, or by an act over which they had no control, they are not personally responsible. This brings me to notice:-
2. The penalty of the law of God for personal sins. It is death. Both Testaments represent man as being exposed to death for personal sins. But, inasmuch as all die for original sin, none can die for personal sin, without a resurrection to a second life; hence the Bible teaches that there will be a resurrection of the dead, “both of the just and the unjust.” To be preceded by a second life, it must, in the nature of things, be a second death; hence while the penalty for personal sin is only one death, yet in reference to its relation to the penalty for original sin, it will be a second death. When I speak of this death as a second death, I wish to be distinctly understood as having no reference whatever to the nature of the penalty for personal sin, but only its relation to a previous death. This must be the only sense in which the Bible speaks of it as a second death.
That man is exposed to die a second time is evident from many very explicit texts of Scripture. Moses makes the most solemn and touching appeal to the children of Israel, saying, “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live.” This was a life which might be obtained by obedience; and a death that would be incurred by disobedience; hence it cannot refer to the first life or first death; for these are not conditional. Prov. xix, 16. “He that keepeth the commandment keepeth his own soul; but he that despiseth his ways shall die.” All die the first death whether they “despise his ways” or not. Eze. xviii, 4. “Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die.” Verse 20. All die the first death, whether they sin or not; it must therefore refer to a second, or another death. Chap. xxxiii, 11. “Say unto them, As I live saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye, from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel.”
The death threatened Adam cannot be averted by turning to God, consequently, this text must refer to another death. Jer. xxi, 8. “And unto this people thou shalt say, Thus saith the Lord, behold I set before you the way of life, and the way of death.” Jesus Christ says, “For if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins.” John viii, 24. This was a death that might be averted by faith; hence it must refer to another death, besides the one all men die, whether they believe or not.