“A Suitable Correspondence”

…Hath made me free from the law of sin and death. Romans 8:2b

Sin and death are often connected in the Word of God. In Genesis 2:17, the Lord commanded Adam to obey or suffer the pains of death. God said, “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.” Death, in God’s economy of the first covenant, is the result of sin—making them forever connected among the descendants of Adam’s children.

Despite this yoking of sin and death, the question of “why” is not answered by merely acknowledging connectivity. Why are death and sin connected? Thomas Manton argues that the correspondence between sin and death is “suitable” according to the Word of God for three reasons:

“The suitableness or correspondence that is between sin and death… will appear, if we consider the wisdom, justice, and holiness of God (Works of Manton, 11.414).”

The Wisdom of God

In the wisdom of God, sin and death are inseparable. The “law of sin and death” takes the hearer back to the counsel of God before time, back to God’s wisdom in preparing redemptive history. God, in his wisdom, categorically divided out sin and the punishment for sin to be a suitable correspondence. Manton expressed,

“The wisdom of God which does all things according to weight, measure and order, cannot permit the disjunction of these two things, so closely united together as sin and punishment; but there will be an appearance of deformity and incongruity, if there be such things as good and evil (Ibid, 11.414).”

Sin and death are so closely conjoined that, according to the wisdom of God, they are “natural relatives.” That is the language that Manton used when he penned, “From hence we may see how incongruous it is to the wisdom of God, who permitteth no… disproportion in any of his dispensations, to admit a separation of these natural relatives (Ibid).”

In God’s wisdom, sin and death have a suitable correspondence. But it is not merely in the wisdom of God—which cannot be fully plumbed—this correspondence is also part of the justice of God.

The Justice of God

God must do right because he is just. Genevan theologian and late-Puritan contemporary, Francis Turretin, would describe God’s justice in terms of both universal and distributive justice. The first is “universal justice by which, as God is in himself perfectly holy and just, so in all his works he preserves an incorruptible rectitude and justice (Turretin, Elenctic Theology, 1.235).” The second way that justice is used is “distributive” or vindictive justice.

When Manton discerns that God’s justice is a reason that sin and death have a suitable correspondence, both of these aspects of divine justice are taken into consideration. God’s distributive justice—death—is an outflow of his universal justice, because God’s character cannot bear to be in the presence of sin.  Manton, quoting Moses, said God, “as the judge of the world…must and will do right (Works of Manton, 11.415).” Romans 5.12 says, “ 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.” Justice must be poured out upon sin by way of death, because God is just and will practice justice. “The justice of God maketh an inseparable connection between sin and death (Ibid).”

The Purity & Holiness of God

Lastly, Manton envisions a suitable correspondence between sin and death due to the fact that God is holy and pure. In God’s holiness and purity, we find within him that “…which inclineth him to hate evil and love that which is good (Ibid).” The fifth Psalm, which Manton would have been familiar singing during public and private worship, records, “For thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness: neither shall evil dwell with thee. The foolish shall not stand in thy sight: thou hatest all workers of iniquity (Psalm 5:4-5).”

Manton further illustrates the division between that which is holy and base in creation using the eleventh chapter of Proverbs: “They that are of a froward heart are abomination to the Lord: but such as are upright in their way are his delight (Proverbs 11.20).” Words like “abomination” and “delight” are not hyperbole; they describe God’s holy and pure character demonstrated towards his creation. And from this we see that God will not hold unholy hearts guiltless. As Manton wrote,

“If God loveth good and hateth evil, he will one way or the other express his love and hatred. This he doth by promising life to the good, and threatening death to the evil…it is evidently known that the one is rewarded and the other punished (Ibid).”

So why are death and sin connected? Because God is wise. And because God is just. And because God is holy and pure.

Read more on Manton and Romans 8 here.

Nathan Eshelman is the pastor of the Orlando Reformed Presbyterian Church (RPCNA). He studied for ministry at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary and the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Nathan co-hosts “The Jerusalem Chamber” podcast, a paragraph by paragraph exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith; writes for Gentle Reformation; and has a forthcoming book on the Westminster Confession of Faith through Crown and Covenant Publications. Nathan is married to Lydia and has five children and is an avid book collector and antique aficionado.

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Image:  "The Penitent Saint Jerome" by Simone Cantarini

Nathan Eshelman