The next point of contention is over the doctrine of original sin, i.e., the teaching that “in Adam’s fall sinned we all.” The issue is not whether we sinned in Adam but whether, as Perkins put it, “after baptism…how far forth it remains after baptism.” In other words, after baptism, how sinful are we. This is important because, as he wrote, “hereupon depend many points of Popery.”
The Reformed and Romanists agree that after baptism “natural corruption” is abolished but we disagree as to what extent.
For Perkins there were three things in original sin:
- The punishment (the first and second death)
- Guiltiness (the binding up of the creature unto punishment)
- The fault (offending of God)
Under the third heading he addressed our guilt in Adam, the corruption of the heart, i.e., a natural inclination and proclivity to “any thing that is evil or against the law of God.”
According to Perkins, for the regenerate, in baptism, “the punishment of original sin is taken away” because “There is no condemnation (saith the Apostle) to them that be in Jesus Christ, Rom. 8. 1.”
Working backward, guilt is also taken away in the regenerate (i.e., those given new life). He cautioned that this is true of the person regenerate but not of the “sin in the person.” His clear intent was to restrict these benefits to the regenerate and he did not attribute the power of regeneration (new life) to the sacrament of baptism. In effect he was saying that Baptism was the sign and seal to the regenerate of what is promised in the gospel. He continued to explain that the corruption of sin remains until death.
Where he differ with Rome, however, concerns “the manner, and the measure of the abolishment of this sin.” Rome teaches, he argued, that, in baptism, original sin is “taken away” so completely that “it ceases to be a sin properly” so that it is now, after baptism, only a “want, a defect, a weakness” which leaves the potential of sin “like tinder” that is ready to burst into flames. They take this position in order to make it possible for them to “uphold some gross opinions of theirs namely, that a man in this life may fulfill the law of God: and do good works void of sin: that he may stand righteous at the bar of God’s judgement by them.”
In contrast, the Reformed teach that though “original sin be taken away in the regenerate” nevertheless it remains in them after baptism not only as “a want and weakness” but “as sin….”
He appealed to Romans 7:17. Sin, not mere want or weakness, dwells in baptized believers. Further, baptized infants “die the bodily death before they come to the years of discretion.” If baptism removes original sin in the way Rome claims there would be no cause of death them. Third, concupiscence (sinful desire) remains after baptism (Galatians 5:17 and (James 1:14). Finally, under this heading, Perkins appealed to Augustine (Epistle 29), where he argued that in baptism the reigning power of sin is broken but not that there is no sin whatever.
Perkins concluded this section by addressing four objections the essence of which has to do with defining sin. According to Perkins, Rome is Pelagianizing. Rome’s account of sin does not match the biblical doctrine of sin and it doesn’t square with Augustine’s (mature) doctrine of sin against the Pelagians and semi-Pelagians. Rome is implicitly perfectionist. Once again, according to Rome, in Adam we are sinful but we are not so sinful (depraved) that we cannot do our part, cooperate with grace unto sanctification and thence to justification.