11 May, 2016

The “Organism” of the Human Race


Prof. Herman Hanko

It is at this point that we must introduce the idea of the "organism" of the human race. It has struck me over the years that this concept is one rarely understood in today's church world. I am not sure what the reason for this lack of understanding is. Sometimes I think that the problem is that Arminianism has had more influence in the church than we really realize. Arminianism is always individualistic. Scripture is not. It is true that God deals with men individually; but it is also true that God deals with men organically. It is the latter which is so often not recognized.

The human race is an organism. This is true because God created the whole human race in Adam. He is the organic head of the human race, the father of all mankind, the one from whom the whole human race comes forth.

We can perhaps understand this somewhat better if we recognize that the human race is like a mighty oak tree. Just as the whole oak tree which becomes a mighty tree over the course of many years comes forth from a lowly acorn, so also does the whole human race come from our first parents, Adam and Eve. All the human natures of all men were created in Adam by God just as the whole oak tree was created by God in the acorn.

Within the oak tree, there are smaller organisms as well. The leaf is an organism in its own right; so is the branch, the trunk, and an individual root. So, within the organism of the human race are lesser organisms: the race, the nation, the family. Each in its own right is an organism with which God deals; but each is an organism within the larger organism of the human race.

This organic unity of the human race implies also the federal unity of all mankind. Adam was not only the organic head of all men; he was also the federal head.

While we cannot go into detail on the question of the federal unity of the human race, it is important, at least, to understand it. That Adam was the federal head of all mankind is the same as saying that he was the legal head, or the judicial head.

This fact is important, for it is because of Adam's sin of disobedience in the garden that the guilt of Adam's sin became the guilt of all mankind. Adam's punishment for his sin was death: "The day thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die." This death was not only physical death, but it was also spiritual death. Adam was, at the moment of the fall, made totally depraved. The death of total depravity is a penal concept. It is a punishment for sin. It is the judgment of God upon man for his sin. This total depravity of man's nature was passed on to all his descendants. And, although this total depravity was passed on to all men through the organic headship of Adam, i.e., because Adam was the organic head of the human race, the total depravity which comes on all men is God's judgment upon all men for their sin in Adam. Because all men are guilty for Adam's sin, all men are also born spiritually dead.

This is the clear teaching of Romans 5:12-14: "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: (for until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come." Death passed upon all men because all have sinned. But this death for sin came upon all men because by one man (Adam) sin entered into the world.

Thus, in connection with the sin of Adam and the punishment for sin, God did not deal with Adam as an individual only, but dealt with the whole human race.

Following this same pattern, God teaches us that He deals in a similar way with the smaller organisms within the one organism of the human race. So He dealt with Shem,
Ham, and Japheth from whom the races of the earth descended (Gen. 9:25-27). So God repeatedly dealt with the nation of Israel. Guilt for sin in Israel was corporate guilt. First of all it was true that the sins of the leaders in Israel brought trouble upon the nation as a whole including wicked and righteous. A wicked king brought grief to the whole nation, and the effects of the wrath of God against a wicked king were felt by the whole nation. David's sin of numbering the people brought the angel of death in fury against Israel and brought death to 70,000 men (II Sam. 24). But even individual sins of members of the nation brought with it a corporate guilt. This is clear from many passages in Scripture. Briefly we can refer the reader to Joshua 7, in which chapter we are told that the entire nation suffered defeat at Ai because of Achan's sin. The text tells us in so many words: "Israel hath sinned, and they have also transgressed my covenant which I commanded them: for they have even taken of the accursed thing, and have also stolen, and dissembled also" (verse 11). Far and away the majority of the people did not even know what Achan had done; yet "Israel hath sinned," and "they have taken of the accursed thing...."

In like manner, although this was the pattern through Israel's entire history, Ezra confesses as his own, in a poignant manner, the sin of the nation which brought the nation into captivity and again threatened her existence: "And at the evening sacrifice I arose up from my heaviness; and having rent my garment and my mantle, I fell upon my knees, and spread out my hands unto the Lord my God, and said, O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face to thee, my God: for our iniquities are increased over our head, and our trespass is grown up unto the heavens. Since the days of our fathers have we been in a great trespass unto this day ..." (Ezra 9:5ff.).

So also Daniel prayed when he was in captivity. He prayed and made confession: "O Lord, the great and dreadful God, keeping the covenant and mercy to them that love him, and to them that keep his commandments; we have sinned, and have committed iniquity, and have done wickedly, and have rebelled, even by departing from thy precepts and from thy judgments: neither have we hearkened unto thy servants the prophets, which spake in thy name to our kings ..." (Dan. 9:4ff.). Daniel confessed the sins of the nation which brought them into captivity, but did so in the first person, thereby confessing that all these sins of his fathers, even before he was born, were his own.

The same federal unity is found in the family, for God "visits the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate him" (Ex. 20:5).

Life is filled with this. The leaders of a nation may declare war. The citizens may not be entirely in agreement with their rulers. But all the sons go to war; the homes of all are destroyed; all suffer the consequences of war.

It is with good reason that the Heidelberg Catechism tells us that when we confess that we believe in the forgiveness of sins, we confess also that we believe that God forgives our corrupt nature against which we have to struggle all our life long (Q & A. 56), for we are shaped in iniquity and conceived in sin (Ps. 51:5). We are responsible before God for our corrupt natures with which we are born.

If we understand our federal and organic unity in Adam properly, we can also understand that it is God's purpose to create a new federal and organic union in Christ. This also is the clear teaching of all Scripture. Romans 5:14 says that Adam, as the federal head of the whole human race, was “a figure of him who was to come." Paul, in speaking of the resurrection of the body, says: "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive" (I Cor. 15:22).

We must now expand the figure somewhat.

If we look at the matter from the viewpoint of God's purpose, then we are able to understand that the whole human race is indeed an organism, but it is an organism from the viewpoint of Christ and His elect people, which serves a specific purpose which God has in mind in His eternal counsel: the salvation of the elect in Christ. It is out of the human race that Christ comes according to His human nature; it is out of the human race that the elect are saved in Christ.

It is perhaps better in this connection to use the figure which Jesus uses in John 15:1-8. Although the figure probably refers, in the first place, to the nation of Israel, it can be applied equally to the whole human race. God is the Husbandman of this vine, Jesus is Himself the vine. There are many branches in the vine, some of which do not bear fruit and some of which do. Whether the branches bear fruit or not depends upon whether they are in Christ or not in Christ: "He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing" (verse 5). The branches that do not bear fruit, though actually in the vine (i.e., in the human race) must be taken away, cast forth, and burned in the fire (verse 6).

This is the distinction between election and reprobation in the human race. The elect are in Christ and are saved; the reprobate are not in Christ and are cut off the vine and burned. But the vine is one organism.

This figure is apparent in all creation. The man who owns a vineyard must, for the sake of the branches that bear fruit, constantly prune the vine and cut away branches that are finally burned.

Scripture uses other figures as well.

A figure repeatedly used in Scripture is the figure of wheat. The whole plant grows together, but the wheat is finally gathered into the granary while the chaff is destroyed. The organism is one and grows as one, just as the human race is one and grows as one. But the whole organism grows for the purpose of the few kernels of wheat which are finally saved, while the greater part of the plant is burned when the wheat is ripe. The ungodly are like the "chaff which the wind driveth away" (Ps. 1:4). Christ is the One "whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire" (Matt. 3:12).

The human race, looking at it organically, is thus the wheat plant which grows throughout history. Christ comes for the harvest (Rev. 14:14-20) and gathers His harvest to bring the elect into His everlasting kingdom, but to destroy forever the wicked.

The human race is an organism, and the elect in Christ are the fruit gathered into eternal blessedness.

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