D. If we be responsible for Adam?s first sin, we must also be responsible not only for every other sin of Adam, but for the sins of our immediate ancestors.
We reply that the apostasy of human nature could occur but once. It occurred in Adam before the eating of the forbidden fruit and revealed itself in that eating. The subsequent sins of Adam and of our immediate ancestors are no longer acts which determine or change the nature ? they only show what the nature is. Here is the truth and the limitation of the Scripture declaration that ?the son shall not bear the iniquity of the father? (Ezekial 18:20; cf. <421302>Luke 13:2, 3; <430902>John 9:2, 3). Man is not responsible for the specifically evil tendencies communicated to him from his immediate ancestors, as distinct from the nature he possesses; nor is he responsible for the sins of those ancestors which originated these tendencies. But he is responsible for that original apostasy which constituted the one and final revolt of the race from God, and for the personal depravity and disobedience, which in his own case has resulted therefrom.
Augustine, Enchiridion, 46, 47 leans toward an imputing of the sins of immediate ancestors, but intimates that, as a matter of grace, this may be limited to ?the third and fourth generation? ( <022005>Exodus 20:5). Aquinas thinks God said this because fathers live to see the third and fourth generation of their descendants and influence them by their example to become voluntarily like themselves. Burgesse, Original Sin, 397, adds the covenant-idea to that of natural generation in order to prevent imputation of the sins of immediate ancestors as well as those of Adam. So also Shedd agrees. But Baird Elohim Revealed, 503, gives a better explanation, when he distinguishes between the first sin of nature when it apostatized, and those subsequent personal actions which merely manifest the nature but do not change it. Imagine Adam to have remained innocent, but one of his posterity to have fallen. Then the descendants of that one would have been guilty for the change of nature in him but not guilty for the sins of ancestors intervening between him and them.
We add that man may direct the course of a lava stream, already flowing downward into some particular channel and may even dig a new channel for it down the mountain. But the stream is constant in its quantity and quality, and is under the same influence of gravitation in all stages of its progress. I am responsible for the downward tendency, which my nature gave itself at the beginning but I am not responsible for inherited and specifically evil tendencies as something apart from the nature for they are
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