The GOSPEL TRUTH
I. FURTHER EXAMINATION OF THE ARGUMENTS ADDUCED IN SUPPORT OF THE POSITION THAT HUMAN NATURE IS IN ITSELF SINFUL.
The defenders of the doctrine of constitutional sinfulness or moral depravity urge as a farther argument,
2. That sin is a universal effect of human nature, and therefore, human nature must be itself sinful.
Answer. This argument proceeds upon the two false assumptions,
1. That an effect must have the same character as its cause. This assumption, that an affect must have the same character with its cause, is a false assumption. God's will caused the material universe but it does not follow that the effect is holy as the will of God is holy. God's intention, which was the cause, is holy. But the effect, the material universe, simply because it is an effect, has no character at all. Nothing that is properly an effect can ever, by any possibility, poossess[sic.] a moral character. The universe of mind, also, is an effect of the Divine intention. These minds are not in their substance, and so far as they are effects, holy or sinful. That is, they have in their essence or substance, no moral character whatever, simply because they are effects.
Their moral character is of their own forming. Moral character, universally and necessarily, belongs to intelligent, voluntary cause and never to an effect. All responsible causality resides in free will. Praise or blameworthiness is strictly predicable only of the agent, never strictly of his actions. The agent who causes his own actions is holy or sinful, is praise or blameworthy, for his intentions or actions. It is not the intention or action that is praise or blameworthy, but the cause or agent that acts. When we say that moral character belongs to the intention, we do not mean that it is the intention itself that deserves praise or blame, but that the agent deserves praise or blame only for his intentions. If, then, choice or intention be regarded as an effect of free will, its cause, let it be understood that the effect strictly speaking is neither praise or blameworthy, but that the agent is alone responsible for the choice of which he is the cause. The argument we are examining is this: "Sin is an effect of human nature; therefore human nature is in its essence and substance sinful." This statement is false; but state it thus, and it is true: Sin is an attribute of selfish intention; selfish intention is an effect of free responsible will; therefore, the free responsible cause of this effect is blameworthy for this effect, this sin.
2. The second false assumption upon which the argument we are examining is based, is this, namely, that sin as a universal effect of human nature proves that the substance of human nature must be in itself sinful. This is a non sequitur. Sin may be, and must be an abuse of free agency, and this may be accounted for, as we shall see, by ascribing it to the universality of temptation and does not at all imply a sinful constitution. But if sin implies a sinful nature, how did Adam and Eve sin? Had they a sinful nature to account for and to cause their first sin? How did angels sin? Had they also a sinful nature? Either sin does not imply a sinful nature, or a nature in itself sinful, or Adam and angels must have had sinful natures before their fall.
Again: Suppose we regard sin as an event or effect. An effect only implies an adequate cause. Free, responsible will is an adequate cause, in the presence of temptation, without the supposition of a sinful constitution, as has been demonstrated in the case of Adam and of angels. When we have found an adequate cause, it is unphilosophical to look for and assign another.
Again: It is said that no motive to sin could be a motive or a temptation, if there were not a sinful taste, relish or appetite inherent in the constitution to which the temptation or motive is addressed. For example, the presence of food, it is said, would be no temptation to eat, were there not a constitutional appetency terminating on food. So the presence of any object could be no inducement to sin, were there not a constitutional appetency or craving for sin. So that in fact, sin in action were impossible unless there were sin in the nature. To this I reply:
Suppose this objection be applied to the sin of Adam and of angels. Can we not account for Eve's eating the forbidden fruit without supposing that she had a craving for sin? The Bible informs us that her craving was for the fruit, for knowledge, and not for sin. The words are: "And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her, and he did eat." Here is nothing of a craving for sin. Eating this fruit was indeed sinful, but the sin consisted in consenting to gratify, in a prohibited manner, the appetites, not for sin, but for food and knowledge. But the advocates for this theory say that there must be an adaptedness in the constitution, a something within answering to the outward motive or temptation, and sin were impossible. This is true. But the question is, what is that something within, which responds to the outward motive? Is it a craving for sin? We have just seen what it was in the case of Adam and Eve. It was simply the correlation that existed between the fruit and their constitution, its presence exciting the desires for food and knowledge. This led to prohibited indulgence. This is a short history of the origin of all sin in mankind, as we shall see. That is, all men sin in precisely the same way. They consent to gratify, not a craving for sin, but a craving for other things, and the consent to make self-gratification an end is the whole of sin.
This argument assumes as true, what we, on a former occasion, have seen to be false, namely, that sinners love sin for its own sake. If it could be true, total depravity would of necessity secure perfect blessedness. It would be the very state which the mind supremely loves for its own sake. The sinner could then say, not merely in the language of poetry, but in sober prose and fact, "Evil, be thou my good."
The Theologians whose views we are canvassing, maintain that the appetites, passions, desires, and propensities which are constitutional and entirely involuntary, are in themselves sinful. To this I reply, that Adam and Eve possessed them before they fell. Christ possessed them or he was not a man, nor in any proper sense a human being. No, these appetites, passions, and propensities are not sinful, though they are the occasions of sin. They are a temptation to the will to seek their unlawful indulgence. When these lusts or appetites are spoken of as the "passions of sin" or as "sinful lusts or passions," it is not because they are sinful in themselves, but because they are the occasions of sin.
Again: The death and suffering of infants previous to actual transgression is adduced as an argument to prove that infants have a sinful nature. To this I reply,
1. That this argument must assume that there must be sin wherever there is suffering and death. But this assumption proves too much, as it would prove that mere animals have a sinful nature or have committed actual sin. An argument that proves too much proves nothing.
2. Physical sufferings prove only physical, and not moral depravity. Previous to moral agency, infants are no more subjects of moral government than brutes are; therefore their sufferings and death are to be accounted for as are those of brutes, namely, by ascribing them to violations of the laws of life and health.
Another argument for a sinful constitution is, that unless infants have a sinful nature, they do not need sanctification to fit them for heaven. Answer:
1. This argument assumes that if they are not sinful they must be holy, whereas they are neither sinful nor holy until they are moral agents and render themselves so by obedience or disobedience to the moral law. If they are to go to heaven, they must be made holy or must be sanctified.
2. This objection assumes that previous sinfulness is a condition of the necessity of being holy. This is contrary to fact. Were Adam and angels first sinful before they were sanctified? But it is assumed that unless moral agents are at first sinners they do not need the Holy Spirit to induce them to be holy. That is, unless their nature is sinful, they would become holy without the Holy Spirit. But where do we ascertain this? Suppose that they have no moral character, and that their nature is neither holy nor sinful. Will they become holy without being enlightened by the Holy Spirit? Who will assert that they will?
3. That infants have a sinful nature has been inferred from the institution of circumcision so early as the eighth day after birth. Circumcision, it is truly urged, was designed to teach the necessity of regeneration, and by way of implication, the doctrine of moral depravity. It is claimed that its being enjoined as obligatory upon the eighth day after birth, was requiring it at the earliest period at which it could be safely performed. From this it is inferred that infants are to be regarded as morally depraved from their birth.
In answer to this I would say, that infant circumcision was doubtless designed to teach the necessity of their being saved by the Holy Spirit from the dominion of the flesh, that the influence of the flesh must be restrained, and the flesh circumcised, or the soul would be lost. This truth needed to be impressed on the parents from the birth of their children. This very significant and bloody and painful rite was well calculated to impress this truth upon parents, and to lead them from their birth to watch over the development and indulgence of their propensities, and to pray for their sanctification. Requiring it at so early a day was no doubt designed to indicate that they are from the first under the dominion of their flesh, without however affording any inference in favor of the idea that their flesh was in itself sinful, or that the subjection of their will, at that early age, was sinful. If reason was not developed, the subjection of the will to appetite could not be sinful. But whether this subjection of the will to the gratification of the appetite was sinful or not, the child must be delivered from it or it could never be fitted for heaven any more than a mere brute can be fitted for heaven. The fact that circumcision was required on the eighth day and not before, seems to indicate, not that they are sinners absolutely from birth, but that they very early become so, even from the commencement of moral agency.
Again: The rite must be performed at sometime. Unless a particular day were appointed it would be very apt to be deferred, and finally not performed at all. It is probable that God commanded that it should be done at the earliest period at which it could be safely done, not only for the reasons already assigned, but to prevent its being neglected too long and perhaps altogether, and perhaps, also, because it would be less painful and dangerous at that early age when the infant slept most of the time and was not able to exercise and endanger life, and also because it is well known that parents are more attached to their children as they grow older, and it would be less painful to the parent to perform the rite when the child was very young than afterwards when it had entwined itself around the parental heart. The longer it was neglected the greater would be the temptation to neglect it altogether, So painful a rite needed to be enjoined by positive statute at some particular time, and it was desirable on all accounts that it should be done as early as it safely could lie. This argument for native constitutional moral depravity amounts really to nothing.
Again: It is urged that unless infants have a sinful nature, should they die in infancy, they could not be saved by the grace of Christ.
To this I answer, that in this case they would not go, of course, to hell.
But what grace could there be in saving them from a sinful constitution that is not exercised in saving them from circumstances that would certainly result in their becoming sinners, if not snatched from them? In neither case do they need pardon for sin. Grace is unearned favor, a gratuity. If the child has a sinful nature it is his misfortune, and not crime. To save him from this nature is to save him from those circumstances that will certainly result in actual transgression unless he is rescued by death and by the Holy Spirit. So if his nature is not sinful, yet it is certain that his nature and circumstances are such that he will surely sin unless rescued by death and by the Holy Spirit before he is capable of sinning. It certainly must be an infinite favor to be rescued from such circumstances, and especially to have eternal life conferred as a mere gratuity. This surely is grace. And as they belong to a race of sinners who are all, as it were, turned over into the hands of Christ, they doubtless will ascribe their salvation to the infinite grace of Christ.
Again: Is it not grace that saves us from sinning? What then is it but grace that saves infants from sinning by snatching them away from circumstances of temptation? In what way does grace save adults from sinning but by keeping them from temptation, or by giving grace to overcome temptation? And is there no grace in rescuing infants from circumstances that are certain, if they are left in them, to lead them into sin.
All that can be justly said in either case is that if infants are saved at all, (which I suppose they are,) they are rescued by the benevolence of God from circumstances that would result in certain and eternal death, and made heirs of eternal life. But after all it is useless to speculate about the character and destiny of those who are confessedly not moral agents. The benevolence of God will take care of them. It is nonsensical to insist upon their moral depravity before they are moral agents, and it is equally frivolous to assert that they must be morally depraved as a condition of their being saved by grace.
We deny that the human constitution is morally depraved,
1. Because there is no proof of it.
2. Because it is impossible that sin should be an attribute of the substance of soul or body. It is and must be an attribute of choice or intention and not of substance.
3. To make sin an attribute or quality of substance is contrary to God's definition of sin. "Sin," says the apostle, "is anomia" a "transgression of, or a want of conformity to the moral law." That is, it consists in a refusal to love God and our neighbor, or, which is the same thing, in loving ourselves supremely.
4. To represent the constitution as sinful is to represent God, who is the author of the constitution, as the author of sin. To say that God is not the direct former of the constitution, but that sin is conveyed by natural generation from Adam who made himself sinful, is only to remove the objection one step farther back, but not to obviate it; for God established the physical laws that of necessity bring about this result.
5. But how came Adam by a sinful nature? Did his first sin change his nature? or did God change it as a penalty for sin? What ground is there for the assertion that Adam's nature became in itself sinful by the fall? This is a groundless, not to say ridiculous assumption and a flat absurdity. Sin an attribute of nature! A sinful substance! Sin a substance! Is it a solid, a fluid, a material or a spiritual substance?
I have received the following note from a brother on this subject:
"The orthodox creeds are in some cases careful to say that original sin consists in the substance of neither soul nor body. Thus Bretschneider, who is reckoned among the rationalists in Germany, says: "The Symbolical Books very rightly maintained that original sin is not in any sense the substance of man, his body or soul, as Flacius taught,--but that it has been infused into human nature by Satan, and mixed with it, as poison and wine are mixed."
They rather expressly guard against the idea that they mean by the phrase "man's nature," his substance, but somewhat which is fixed in the substance. They explain original sin, therefore, not as an essential attribute of man, that is, a necessary and essential part of his being, but as an accident, that is, somewhat which does not subsist in itself, but, as something accidental, has come into human nature. He quotes the Formula Concordantiæ as saying: "Nature does not denote the substance itself of man, but something which inheres fixed in the nature or substance." Accident is defined "what does not subsist by itself, but is in some substance and can be distinguished from it."
Here, it seems, is sin by itself, and yet not a substance or subsistence--not a part or attribute of soul or body. What can it be? Does it consist in wrong action? No, not in action, but is an accident which inheres fixed in the nature of substance. But what can it be? Not substance, nor yet action. But if it be any thing it must be either substance or action. If it be a state of substance, what is this but substance in a particular state? What a wonder it must be! Who ever saw it? But it is invisible, for it is something neither matter nor spirit--a virus, a poison mixed with, yet distinct from the constitution. Do these writers think by this subtility to relieve the subject of constitutional moral depravity of its intrinsic absurdity? If so, they are greatly mistaken, for really they only render it more absurd and ridiculous. I fear that christian men, even doctors of divinity will never be ashamed to vindicate this ridiculous absurdity, until some master hand shall so expose it as to make a man blush at the folly of asserting it.
6. I object to the doctrine of constitutional sinfulness that it makes all sin, original and actual, a mere calamity, and not a crime. To call it a crime is to talk nonsense. What! a sinful nature the crime of him upon whom it is entailed without his knowledge or consent? If the nature is sinful in such a sense that action must be, which is the doctrine of the Confession of Faith, then sin in action must be a calamity, and can be no crime? It is the necessary effect of a sinful nature. This can not be a crime.
7. This doctrine represents sin as a disease, and obedience to law impossible until the nature is changed by a sovereign and physical agency of the Holy Spirit, in which the subject is passive.
8. Of course it must render repentance, either with or without the grace of God impossible unless grace set aside our reason. If repentance implies self-condemnation we can never repent in the exercise of our reason. Constituted as we are, it is impossible that we should condemn ourselves for a sinful nature or for sinful actions that are unavoidable. The doctrine of original sin, or of a sinful constitution and of necessary sinful actions, represents the whole moral government of God, the plan of salvation by Christ, and indeed every doctrine of the gospel as a mere farce, and as the veriest humbug that ever insulted and mocked the intelligence of man. Upon this supposition the law is tyranny, and the gospel an insult to the unfortunate.
9. This doctrine represents sin as being of two kinds: original or constitutional and actual--sin of substance and sin of action; whereas neither the bible nor common sense acknowledges but one kind of sin, and that consists in disobedience to the law.
10. This doctrine represents a sinful nature as the physical cause of actual sin.
11. It acknowledges a kind of sin of which no notice will be taken at the judgment. The bible every where represents the deeds done in the body, and not the constitution itself, as the only things to be brought into judgment.
12. It necessarily begets a self-justifying and God-condemning spirit. Man must cease to be a reasonable being, and give himself up to the most ridiculous imaginations before he can blame himself for Adam's sin, as some have professed to do, or before he can blame himself for possessing a sinful nature, or for sins that unavoidably resulted from a sinful nature.
13. This doctrine necessarily leads its advocates rather to pity and excuse sinners than unqualifiedly to blame them.
14. It is difficult and indeed impossible for those who really believe this doctrine to urge immediate repentance and submission on the sinner, feeling that he is infinitely to blame unless he instantly comply. It is a contradiction to affirm that a man can heartily believe in the doctrine in question and yet truly and heartily blame sinners for not doing what is naturally impossible to them. The secret conviction must be in the mind of such an one that the sinner is not really to blame for being a sinner. For in fact if this doctrine is true he is not to blame for being a sinner any more than he is to blame for being a human being. This the advocate of this doctrine must know. It is vain for him to set up the pretence that he truly blames sinners for their nature, or for their conduct, that was unavoidable. He can not do it any more than he can honestly deny the necessary affirmations of his own reason. Therefore the advocates of this theory must merely hold it as a theory without believing it, or they must in their secret conviction excuse the sinner.
15. This doctrine naturally and necessarily leads its advocates, secretly at least, to ascribe the atonement of Christ rather to justice than to grace--to regard it rather as an expedient to relieve the unfortunate than to render the forgiveness of the excuseless sinner possible. The advocates of the theory in question can not but regard the case of the sinner as rather a hard one, and God as under an obligation to provide a way for him to escape from a sinful nature entailed upon him in spite of himself, and from actual transgressions which resulted from his nature by a law of necessity. If all this is true, the sinner's case is infinitely hard, and God would be the most unreasonable and cruel of beings if he did not provide for their escape. These convictions will and must lodge in the mind of him who really believes the dogma of a sinful nature. This in substance is sometimes affirmed by the defenders of the doctrine of original sin.
16. This doctrine is a stumbling block both to the church and the world--infinitely dishonorable to God, and an abomination alike to God and the human intelligence, and should be banished from every pulpit and from every formula of doctrine, and from the world. It is a relict of heathen philosophy, and was foisted in among the doctrines of Christianity by Augustine, as every one may know who will take the trouble to examine for himself. Who does not know that this view of moral depravity that I am opposing, has long been the strong hold of Universalism? From it the Universalists inveighed with resistless force against the idea that sinners would be sent to an eternal hell. Assuming the long-defended doctrine of original or constitutional sinfulness, they proceed to show that it were infinitely unreasonable and unjust in God to send them to hell. What! create them with a sinful nature from which proceed by a law of necessity actual transgressions, and then send them to an eternal hell for having this nature, and for transgressions that are unavoidable? Impossible! they say; and the human intelligence responds Amen.
From the dogma of a sinful nature or constitution also has naturally and irresistibly flowed the doctrine of inability to repent, and the necessity of a physical regeneration. These too have been a sad stumbling-block to Universalists as every one knows who is at all acquainted with the history of Universalism. They infer the salvation of all men from the fact of God's benevolence and physical onmipotence! God is Almighty, and he is love. Men are constitutionally depraved, and are unable to repent. God will not, can not send them to hell. They do not deserve it. Sin is a calamity, and God can save them, and he ought to do so. This is the substance of their argument. And, assuming the truth of their premises, there is no evading their conclusion. But the whole argument is built on "such stuff as dreams are made of." Strike out the ridiculous dogma of a sinful nature, and their whole edifice comes to the ground in a moment.
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