The GOSPEL TRUTH
WHAT IS NOT IMPLIED IN DISOBEDIENCE TO MORAL LAW.
In this discussion, I will
I. State briefly what constitutes disobedience.
II. Show what is not implied in it.
I. What constitutes disobedience.
We have seen that all sin or disobedience to moral law is a unit, and that it consists in selfishness, or in the choice of self-gratification as an end; in other words, that it consists in committing the will to the impulses of the sensibility, to the desires, emotions, feelings and passions, instead of committing it to the good of being in general in obedience to the law of the reason or to the law of God as it is revealed in the reason. Selfishness is the intention to gratify self as an end. It is the preference of self-interest to other and higher interests.
II. What is not implied in disobedience to the law of God.
1. It does not necessarily imply an intention to do wrong. The thing intended in selfishness is to gratify self as an end. This is wrong; but it is not necessary to its being wrong that the wrongness should be aimed at or intended. There may be a state of malicious feeling in a moral agent that would be gratified by the commission of sin. A sinner may have knowingly and intentionally made war upon God and man, and this may have induced a state of the sensibility so hostile to God as that the sinner has a malicious desire to offend and abuse God, to violate his law, and trample upon his authority. This state of feeling may take the control of the will, and he may deliberately intend to violate the law and to do what God hates for the purpose of gratifying this feeling. This, however, it will be seen, is not malevolence or willing either natural or moral evil for its own sake, but as a means of self-gratification. It is selfishness, and not malevolence.
But in the vast majority of instances, where the law is violated and sin committed, it is no part of the aim or intention of the sinner to do wrong. He intends to gratify himself at all events. This intention is wrong. But it is not an intention to do wrong, nor is the wrong the object in any case, or end upon which the intention terminates. There is a great mistake often entertained upon this subject. Many seem to think that they do not sin unless they intend to sin. The important truth that sin belongs only to the ultimate intention, than which nothing is more true or more important, has been perverted in this manner. It has been assumed by some that they had not done wrong nor intended wrong, because they were conscious that the wrong was not the end at which they aimed. "I did not intend the wrong," say they, and "therefore I did not sin." Now here is a fatal mistake, and a total perversion of the great and important truth that sin and holiness belong only to the ultimate intention.
2. Disobedience to the moral law does not imply that wrong, or sin, or in other words, disobedience is ever intended as an end or for its own sake. Gross mistakes have been fallen into upon this subject. Sinners have been represented as loving sin and as choosing it for its own sake. They have been represented as having a natural and constitutional craving or appetite for sin, such as carnivorous animals have for flesh. Now, if this craving existed, still it would not prove that sin is sought or intended for its own sake. I have a constitutional desire for food and drink. My desires terminate on these objects, that is, they are desired for their own sake. But they are never and never can be chosen for their own sake or as an end. They are chosen as a means of gratifying the desire, or may be chosen as a means of glorifying God. Just so, if it were true that sinners have a constitutional appetency for sin, the sin would be desired for its own sake or as an end, but could not be chosen except as a means of self-gratification.
But again. It is not true that sinners have a constitutional appetency and craving for sin. They have a constitutional appetite or desire for a great many things around them. They crave food and drink and knowledge. So did our first parents; and when these desires were strongly excited, they were a powerful temptation to prohibited indulgence. Eye craved the fruit, and the knowledge which she supposed she might attain by partaking of it. These desires led her to seek their indulgence in a prohibited manner. She desired and craved the food and the knowledge, and not the sin of eating. So all sinners have constitutional and artificial appetites and desires enough. But not one of them is a craving for sin, unless it be the exception already named when the mind has come into such relations to God as to have a malicious satisfaction in abusing him. But this is not natural to man, and if it ever exists, is only brought about by rejecting great light and inducing a most terrible perversion of the sensibility. But such cases are extremely rare; whereas it has been strangely and absurdly maintained that all sinners in consequence of the fall of Adam, have a sinful constitution or one that craves sin as it craves food and drink. This is false in fact and absurd in philosophy, and wholly inconsistent with Scripture, as we shall see when we make moral depravity the special subject of attention. The facts are these: men have constitutional desires, appetites and passions. These are not sinful. They all terminate on their respective objects. Selfishness or sin consists in choosing the gratification of these desires as an end or in preferring their gratification to other and higher interests. This choice or intention is sinful. But as I have said, sin is not the object intended, but self-gratification is the end intended.
Again. That disobedience to the law of God does not imply the choice of sin or the wrong for its own sake, has been shown in a former lecture. But I must so far repeat as to say that it is impossible that sin should be chosen as an end. Sin belongs to the ultimate intention. It either consists in and is identical with selfish intention or it is the moral element or attribute of that intention. If it be identical with it, then to intend sin as an end or for its own sake, were to intend my own intention as an end. If sin be but the moral element, quality or attribute of the intention, then to intend sin as an end, I must intend an attribute of my intention as an end. Either alternative is absurd and impossible.
3. Disobedience to moral law does not imply that the wrongness or sinfulness of the intention is so much as thought of at the time the intention is formed. The sin not only need not be intended, but it is not essential to sin that the moral character of the intention be at all taken into consideration or so much as thought of at the time the intention is formed. The sinner ought to will the good of being. This he knows, and if he be a moral agent, which is implied in his being a sinner, he can not but assume this as a first truth that he ought to will the good of being in general and not his own gratification as an end. This truth he always and necessarily takes with him in the form of an assumption of a universal truth. He knows and can not but know that he ought to will the good of God and of the universe as an end instead of willing his own good as an end. Now this being necessarily assumed by him as a first truth, it is no more essential to sin that he should think at the time that a particular intention is or would be sinful, than it is essential to murder that the law of causality should be distinctly before the mind as an object of attention when the murderer aims the fatal weapon at his victim. Murder consists in a selfish intention to kill a human being. I aim a pistol at my neighbor's head with an intention to gratify a spirit of revenge or of avarice or some desire by taking his life. I am, however, so exasperated and so intent on self-indulgence as not to think of the law of God or of God himself or of my obligation to do otherwise. Now, am I hereby justified? No, indeed. I no more think of that law of causality which alone will secure the effect at which I aim, than I do of my obligation and of the moral character of my intention. Nevertheless I assume and can not but assume these first truths at the moment of my intention. The first' truths of reason are those, as has been repeatedly said, that are necessarily known and assumed by all moral agents. Among these truths are those of causality, moral obligation, right, wrong, human free agency, &c. Now whether I think of these truths or not at every moment, I can not but assume their truth at all times. In every endeavor to do any thing I assume the truth of causality, and generally without being conscious of any such assumption. I also assume the truth of my own free agency, and equally without being conscious of the assumption. I also assume that happiness is a good, for I am aiming to realize it. I assume that it is valuable to myself, and can not but assume that it is equally valuable to others. I can not but assume also that it ought to be chosen because of its intrinsic value, and that it ought to be chosen impartially, that is, that the good of each should be chosen according to its relative or intrinsic value. This is assuming my obligation to will it as an end, and is also assuming the rightness of such willing and the wrongness of selfishness.
Now every moral agent does and must (and this fact constitutes him a moral agent) assume all these and divers other truths at every moment of his moral agency. He assumes them all, one as really and as much as the other, and they are all assumed as first truths; and in the great majority of instances, the mind is not more taken up with the consciousness of the assumption or with attending to those truths as a subject of thought than it is with the first truths that space exists and is infinite, that duration exists and is infinite. It of the highest importance that this should be distinctly understood--that sin does not imply that the moral character of an act or intention should be distinctly before the mind at the time of its commission. Indeed it is perfectly common for sinners to act thoughtlessly as they say, that is without reflecting upon the moral character of their intentions. But hereby they are not justified. Indeed this very fact is often but an evidence and an instance of extreme depravity. Think you that an angel could sin thoughtlessly? Could he form a selfish intention without reflection or thinking of its wickedness? Sinners in sinning thoughtlessly, give the highest evidence of their desperate depravity. A sinner may become so hardened and his conscience so stupified, that he may go on from day to day without thinking of God, of moral obligation, of right or wrong; and yet his sin and his guilt are real. He does and must know and assume all these truths at every step, just as he assumes his own existence, the law of causality, his own liberty or free agency, &c. None of these need to be made the object of the mind's attention: they are known and not to be learned. They are first truths, and we can not act at all without assuming them.
4. Disobedience to moral law does not necessarily imply an outwardly immoral life. A sinner may outwardly conform to every precept of the Bible from selfish motives or with a selfish intention, to gratify himself, to secure his own reputation here and his salvation hereafter. This is sin; but it is not outward immorality, but on the contrary is outward morality.
5. Disobedience to moral law does not necessarily imply feelings of enmity to God or to man. The will may be set upon self-indulgence, and yet as the sinner does not apprehend God's indignation against him and his opposition to him on that account, he may have no hard feelings or feelings of hatred to God. Should God reveal to him His abhorrence of him on account of his sins, His determination to punish him for them, the holy sovereignty with which He will dispose of him; in this case the sinner might and probably would feel deeply malicious and revengeful feelings towards God. But sin does not consist in these feelings, nor necessarily imply them.
6. Sin or disobedience to moral law does not imply in any instance a sinful nature; or a constitution in itself sinful. Adam and Eve sinned. Holy angels sinned. Certainly in their case sin or disobedience did not imply a sinful nature or constitution. Adam and Eve, certainly, and holy angels also, must have sinned by yielding to temptation. The constitutional desire being excited by the perception of their correlated objects, they consented to prefer their own gratification to obedience to God, in other words, to make their gratification an end. This was their sin. But in this there was no sin in their constitutions, and no other tendency to sin than this, that these desires, when strongly excited, are a temptation. to unlawful indulgence.
It has been strangely and absurdly assumed that sin in action implies a sinful nature. But this is contrary to fact and to sound philosophy, as well as contrary to the Bible, which we shall see in its proper place.
As it was with Adam and Eve, so it is with every sinner. There is not, there can not be sin in the nature or the constitution. But there are constitutional appetites and passions, and when these are strongly excited, they are a strong temptation or inducement to the will to seek their gratification as an ultimate end. This, as I have said, is sin, and nothing else is or can be sin. It is selfishness. Under its appropriate head, I shall show that the nature or constitution of sinners has become physically depraved or diseased, and that as a consequence, the appetites and passions are more easily excited, and are more clamorous and despotic in their demands; and that, therefore, the constitution of man in its present state, tends more strongly than it otherwise would, to sin. But to affirm that the constitution is in itself sinful, is to talk mere nonsense.
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