Copyright (c)1999, 2000. Gospel Truth Ministries




Chapter 1

A Moral World.

 THIS is a moral world, under a moral government, because mankind are conscious of moral ideas and of moral law, and know themselves to be moral agents, subjects of free-will, of the power to obey, or disobey moral law.

Outside of the sphere of moral agency mankind are as much under the control of necessitative forces as brute animals or insentient matter. But within this sphere necessity can have no compulsive operation, however mighty the influences that act on the soul, whether those influences press from within through the working of the living organism, or from without through the action of other living beings or the action of material external nature. As moral law commands, there must be the power to obey, even if the heart of the moral agent is set in disobedience. In general, sceptical necessitarians admit the incompatibility of universal necessity with obligatory moral law. But many Christian philosophers, strenuously maintaining universal necessity, still hold to the validity, of moral obligation. The sceptics appear here to have the logical advantage; but the saintly character of many of the advocates of universal necessity is beyond question.

It would seem not to be easy to perceive how blameworthiness or praiseworthiness can attach to qualities called moral, when the subjects of these qualities no more freely produce them than the rose so produces its fragrance, the rainbow its beauty, or the serpent the poison of its fangs. We like a beautiful or beneficent thing, and we dislike an ugly or baneful thing, and we praise the one sort and dispraise the other; but this is a totally different operation of our minds from moral approbation or disapprobation.

The moral law commands only one thing--love, benevolence, good-will. This implies that the moral agent knows something of the value of well-being or good. Obedience to the moral law is holiness--the only holiness conceivable or possible. Obedience is in its very conception voluntary. It cannot be the product of creation, in the literal sense of the word. Creation gives existence to being and its natural attributes. But it may be conceived that when man was ushered into being God at once so operated on him in a moral way as to secure in him, as his first character, obedience to the moral law, or holiness. Thus Man would be made, or induced to be, upright.

Refusal to love, or disobeying the moral law, is sin or unholiness. This may appear in various forms; but the essence of sin is found in not loving, or in not exercising good-will. No moral agent can be made the subject of holiness or sin without his consent. Neither holiness nor sin can be propagated from father to son, as scrofula may be. Disease, physical depravity in countless forms, may be immediately inherited, and of course without the consent of offspring. But these are not sin or sinful, however harmful. These may be the occasions of sin, but not without the consent of offspring. When sin or vice is said to be inherited, the word ought to be considered as employed in a secondary sense, unless the context forbids this interpretation. A whole family, tribe, nation, or race may thus inherit moral qualities; but the moral quality resides only in each individual moral will, and originates there. In no other possible way, can we conceive of moral responsibility as properly attaching to each individual moral agent. However powerful the principle of heredity, we must not give it an interpretation which will sweep away the moral world, or use it to explain the universal prevalence of sin in mankind in such a way as to annihilate the sin which it is sought to explain.

If an inworking of the Holy Spirit is an essential condition of the holiness of creatures, their holiness is still their own personal holiness, consisting of their own willing and doing. The occasion or condition makes no part of the thing. And when man first sinned, his sin was disobedience to the moral law. The sin was occasioned by temptation applied to the susceptibilities of his nature. These were not sinful nor evil in any sense. They were necessary constituents of his form of being, necessary to its activity. But moral creatures always know propensities are not to be indulged in opposition to moral law, but always governed in accordance with it.

All the susceptibilities or propensities, being essential to the nature which God has given to man, were transmitted to their posterity by the first parents of the act. I do not find that the Scriptures explicitly tell us whether human nature was changed by the fall of Adam and Eve. But observation has determined that propensities may be made morbidly intense, or irregular, or both, by wrong indulgence, and thus changed may be transmitted to offspring. But this change does not constitute the propensities themselves sinful in any sinner. Sin consists in the surrender of the will to their control, in the consent of the man to obey them against the moral law. When offspring inherit them in this disordered state, it is an inheritance of increased temptation. But however strong the temptation may be, the propensities cannot govern without the consent of the tempted party, even if the temptation is aggravated by the wily influence of Satan. We do not yield to absurdity, when we believe that our first father has transmitted to us an inheritance of increased temptation, certain to lead us into sin. But to say, that a necessitative force infuses sin into us in connection with our descent, is to contradict the very nature of sin, which can be nothing else than disobedience to moral law, and so the free action of moral beings. The principle of heredity is one of tremendous influence, and recognized in the Scriptures; and it is seen to mould families; nations, and races in a marvelous manner. But it is never in the Scriptures spoken of as necessitative, or as fating any creature of God to be wicked. The Bible would be a very different book if it represented mankind as inheriting sin as they, inherit scrofula, consumption, or leprosy.

Nor has the Bible any responsibility for the doctrine that when a moral creature has once sinned he is bound to sin by chains of necessity. For the moment necessity comes in morality and all moral action cease, and all moral responsibility, except for the past. It may be that a sinner, or every sinner in the world, has so set his heart to do evil that there is no hope of his turning from evil-doing unless a Divine Redeemer undertakes his deliverance; but all his obstinate sin is as free as if he were just beginning his evil course. The distinction between moral certainty and physical necessity must be held fast, or there comes a total collapse of all moral ideas.

The first man, by becoming a sinner, became the natural representative of the race in sin, as from him descends the nature or propensities which, with Satan's influence, successfully tempt mankind to sin. It is not Adam and Eve alone who, in the third chapter of Genesis and in the fifth of Romans, are set forth as sinning, but the whole human race of moral agents. But nowhere in the Bible is the offspring of the first pair said to inherit in a purely passive way, their sinful moral character. The first sin of every human being is as free as the first sin of Eve and Adam. The disobedient attitude toward God and his law is as freely assumed. And no necessity of continuing in sin is caused by any sin of any sinner. All sin is always freely committed, and is the abusive product of free-agency. Guilt is proportioned to the degree of light enjoyed. If sinners have now more light than Adam had, they are, in committing sin or in continuing in it, greater sinners than he could be. The cigar-smoker, who knows better that it is wrong to smoke cigars than Adam knew that it was wrong to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, is a worse sinner than Adam was in his sin, This, of course, could not be, if man existed under the operation of a necessitating force of evil, inserted in his nature by his mere descent from the first sinner of the race, or it he did not remain, as to his faculty of moral will, as free as Adam was before he sinned.

But this freedom does not interfere with the certainty of the occurrence of sin. The first sin of Adam was beforehand as certain as any sin ever was or ever will be. God infallibly knew that it would occur, and occur freely, not even occasioned by any antecedent moral bias, but opposed by a bias to good; for an evil bias would itself be sinful, and obviously the first sin could not in any sense arise from what was itself sin. The only account the Bible gives of Adam's first sin is, that Eve tempted him, and he ate the forbidden fruit; his innocent propensities, including his affections, being presupposed as conditions of his temptibility. This is the only explanation that can be given. Some so called philosophers imagine that it is an explanation to say that God created the sin; and they propose the same explanation for all sin and holiness, and, indeed, all thought and choice. The trouble is, that the explanation annihilates the sin sought to be explained. It is self-evident that any attempted explanation of sin or holiness that makes them or it a product of necessity, like an effect of a natural cause or natural causes, is inadmissible, as not germane to the subject.

I have said that all moral events, as well as events in the world of matter and necessity, are antecedently certain to God. This certainty is regarded by Christian necessitarians as proving the necessity of the events. On no other principle, they argue, could they be certainly foreknown. To me the argument appears plausible; and I confess I know not where the fallacy lies. It is like the famous puzzles about motion in space and about the reality of time. Augustine said: "If you do not ask me about time, I know about it; but if you do ask me, I don't know." I think it is self-evident that necessity and morality are incompatible, and that the universality of necessity would sweep away responsibility and moral government or reduce them to an illusion. This is generally held with respect to the pantheistic philosophy and most pantheists maintain that the notions of moral merit and ill-desert are illusory. But I see no difference between the logical outcome of the necessitarianism of some Christians and that of Spinoza. Christian philosophers do not accept this logical outcome; but Spinoza boldly faced the music, or "horrible discord." Holding that there cannot be virtue or sin without free-will, I hold that free-will is a reality, and that we know its reality by immediate consciousness. Kant and Hamilton seem to maintain that we do not know our freedom immediately, but infer it from our consciousness of the moral law. This removes the idea of freedom from the domain of knowledge to that of faith.

As that freedom which is the condition of moral responsibility exists in all moral agents, and is not destroyed by sin, we are not to regard ourselves as a race of unfortunates who by the fall of their first father have been made sinful. We are really guilty ourselves, as he was of his own sin, of all the sin charged to us; and continuing in sin under the light of the gospel, we must be more guilty than Adam ever could be. In this way the Bible speaks of the wickedness of mankind, never representing the sin of any generation as any the less their own personal sin for any influence descending to them from Adam.