« Prev 2. Philosophical Theories of the Nature of Sin. Next »

§ 2. Philosophical Theories of the Nature of Sin.

The first theory in the order of time, apart from the primitive doctrine of the Bible, as to the origin and nature of sin, is the dualistic, or that which assumes the existence of an eternal principle of evil. This doctrine was widely disseminated throughout the East, and in different forms was partially introduced into the Christian church. According to the doctrine of the Parsis this original principle was a personal being; according to the Gnostics, Marcionites, and Manicheans, it was a substance, an eternal ὕλη or matter. Augustine says, “Iste [Manes] duo principia inter se diversa atque adversa, eademque æterna et coæterna, hoc est semper fuisse, composuit: duasque naturas atque substantias, boni scilicet et mali, sequens alios antiquos hæreticos, opinatus est.134134Liber Hæresibus, XLVI.; Works, edit. Benedictines, vol. viii. p. 48, d. These two principles are in perpetual conflict. In the actual world they are intermingled. Both enter into the constitution of man. He has a spirit (πνεῦμα) derived from the kingdom of light; and a body with its animal life (σῶμα and ψυχή) derived from the kingdom of darkness. Sin is thus a physical evil; the defilement of the spirit by its union with a material body; and is to be overcome by physical means, i.e., by means adapted to destroy the influence of the body on the soul. Hence the efficacy of abstinence and austerities.135135Baur's Manichean System. Neander's Church History, edit. Boston, 1849, vol. i. pp. 478-506. Müller's Lehre von der Sünde, vol. i. pp. 504-518.

This theory obviously is: (1.) Inconsistent with Theism, in making something out of God eternal and independent of his will. He ceases to be an infinite Being and an absolute sovereign. He is everywhere limited by a coeternal power which He cannot control. (2.) It destroys the nature of sin as a moral evil, in making it a substance, and in representing it as inseparable from the nature of man as a creature composed of matter and spirit. (3.) It destroys, of course, human responsibility, not only by making moral evil necessary from the very constitution of man, and by referring its origin to a source, eternal and necessarily operative; but by 133making it a substance, which destroys its nature as This theory is so thoroughly anti-theistic and anti-Christian, that although long prevailing as a heresy in the Church, it never entered into any living connection with Christian doctrine.

Sin regarded as a mere Limitation of Being.

The second anti-Christian theory of the nature of sin is that which makes it a mere negation, or limitation of being. Being, substance, is good. “Omne quod est, in quantum aliqua substantia est, et bonum [est],”136136De Genesi ad Literam, XI. xiii. 17, Works, edit. Benedictines, vol. iii. p. 450, d. says Augustine. God as the absolute substance is the supreme good. The absolute evil would be nothing. Therefore the less of being, the less of good; and all negation, or limitation of being is evil, or sin. Spinoza137137Ethices, Par. IV. propos. xx.; Works, edit. Jena, 1803, vol. ii. p. 217. says, “Quo magis unusquisque, suum utile quærere, hoc est suum esse conservare conatur et potest, eo magis virtute præditus est; contra quatenus unusquisque suum utile, hoc est suum esse conservare negligit, eatenus est impotens.” In his demonstration of that proposition he makes power and goodness identical, potentia and virtus are the same. Hence the want of virtue, or evil, is weakness, or limitation of being. Still more distinctly, does Professor Baur of Tübingen, present this view of the nature of sin.138138In the Tübingen Zeitschrift, 1834, Drittes Heft. He says, “Evil is what is finite; for the finite is negative; the negation of the infinite. Everything finite is relatively nothing; a negativity which, in the constant distinction of plus and minus of reality, appears in different forms.” Again, “If freedom from sin is the removal of all limitation, so is it clear, that only an endless series of gradations can bring us to the point where sin is reduced to a vanishing minimum. If this minimum should entirely disappear, then the being, thus entirely free from sin, becomes one with God, for God only is absolutely sinless. But if other beings than God are to exist, there must be in them, so far as they are not infinite as God is, for that very reason, a minimum of evil.” The distinction between good and evil, is, therefore, merely quantitative, a distinction between more or less. Being is good, the limitation of being is evil. This idea of sin lies in the nature of the Pantheistic system. If God be the only substance, the only life, the only agent, then He is the sum of all that is, or, rather all that is, is the manifestation of God; the form of his existence. Consequently, if evil exists it is as much a form of the existence of 134God as good; and can be nothing but imperfect development, or mere limitation of being.

This theory, it is clear, (1.) ignores the difference between the malum metaphysicum and the malum morale, between the physical and the moral between a stunted tree and a wicked man. Instead of explaining sin, it denies its existence. It is therefore in conflict with the clearest of intuitive truths and the strongest of our instinctive convictions. There is nothing of which we are more sure, not even our own existence, than we are of the difference between sin and limitation of being, between what is morally wrong and what is a mere negation of power. (2.) This theory assumes the truth of the pantheistic system of the universe, and therefore is at variance with our religious nature, which demands and assumes the existence of a personal God. (3.) In destroying the idea of sin, it destroys all sense of moral obligation, and gives unrestrained liberty to all evil passions. It not only teaches that all that is, is right; that everything that exists or happens has a right to be, but that the only standard of virtue is power. The strongest is the best. As Cousin says, the victor is always right; the victim is always wrong. The conqueror is always more moral than the vanquished. Virtue and prosperity, misfortune and vice, he says, are in necessary harmony. Feebleness is a vice (i.e., sin), and therefore is always punished and beaten.139139History of Modern Philosophy, translation by Wight, New York, 1852, vol. i. pp. 182-187. This principle is adopted by all such writers as Carlyle, who in their hero worship, make the strong always the good; and represent the murderer, the pirate, and the persecutor, as always more moral and more worthy of admiration than their victims. Satan is far more worthy of homage than the best of men, as in him there is more of being and power, and he is the seducer of angels and the destroyer of men. A more thoroughly demoniacal system than this, the mind of man has never conceived. Yet this system has not only its philosophical advocates, and its practical disciples, but it percolates through much of the popular literature both of Europe and America.

Leibnitz's Theory of Privation.

Nearly allied in terms, but very different in spirit and purpose from this doctrine of Spinoza and his successors, is the theory of Leibnitz, who also resolves sin into privation, and refers it to the necessary limitation of being. Leibnitz, however, was a theist, and his object in his “Théodicée” was to vindicate God by proving that 135the existence of sin is consistent with his divine perfections. His work is religious in its spirit and object, however erroneous and dangerous in some of its principles. He assumed that this is the best possible world. As sin exists in the world, it must be necessary or unavoidable. It is not to be referred to the agency of God. But as God is the universal agent according to Leibnitz's philosophy, sill must be a simple negation or privation for which no efficient cause is needed. These are the two points to be established, First, that sin is unavoidable; and secondly, that it is not due to the agency of God. It is unavoidable, because it arises out of the necessary limitation of the creature. The creature cannot be absolutely perfect. His knowledge and power must be limited. But if limited, they must not only be liable to error, but error or wrong action is unavoidable, or you would have absolutely perfect action from a less than absolutely perfect agent; the effect would transcend the power of the cause. Evil, therefore, according to Leibnitz, arises “par la suprême necessité des vérités éternelles.140140Théodicée, I. 25, Works, edit. Berlin, 1840, p. 511.Le franc-arbitre va au bien, et s’il rencontre le mal, c’est par accident, c’est que le mal est caché sous le bien et comme masqué.” The origin of evil is thus indeed referred to the will, but the will is unavoidably, or of necessity led into error, by the limitations inseparable from the nature of a creature. If, therefore, God created a world at all, He must create one from which sin could not be excluded. Such being the origin and nature of sin, it follows that God is not its author. Providence, according to Leibnitz, is a continued creation (at least this is the view presented in some parts of his “Théodicée”141141Théodicée, I. 27, and III. 381.), therefore all that is positive and real must be due to his agency. But sill being merely negation, or privation, is nothing positive, and therefore does not need an efficient, but simply a deficient cause to account for its existence. The similarity in mode of statement between this doctrine and the Augustinian doctrine which makes all sin defect, and which reconciles its existence with the holiness of God on the same principle as that adopted by Leibnitz, is obvious to all. It is however merely a similarity in the mode of expression. The two doctrines are essentially different, as we shall see when the Augustinian theory comes to be considered. With Augustine, defect is the absence of a moral good which the creature should possess; with Leibnitz, negation is the necessary limitation of the powers of the creature.

The objections to this theory which makes sin mere privation, 136and refers it to the nature of creatures as finite beings, are substantially the same as those already presented as bearing against the other theories before mentioned. (1.) In the first place, it makes sin a necessary evil. Creatures are of necessity imperfect or finite; and if sin be the unavoidable consequence of such imperfection, or limitation of being, sin also becomes a necessary evil. (2.) It makes God after all the author of sin in so far as it throws upon Him the responsibility for its existence. For even admitting that it is a mere negation, requiring no efficient cause, nevertheless God is the author of the limitation in the creature whence sin of necessity flows. He has so constituted the works of his hand, that they cannot but sin, just as the child cannot but err in its judgments. Reason is so feeble even in the adult man that mistakes as to the nature and causes of things are absolutely unavoidable. And if sin be equally unavoidable from the very constitution of the creature, God, who is the author of that constitution, becomes responsible for its existence. This is not only derogatory to the character of God, but directly opposed to the teachings of his Word. The Bible never refers the origin of sin, whether in angels or in men, to the necessary limitations of their being as creatures, but to the perverted and inexcusable use of their own free agency. The fallen angels kept not their first estate; and man, being left to the freedom of his own will, fell from the estate in which he was created. (3.) This theory tends to obliterate the distinction between moral and physical evil. If sin be mere privation, or if it be the necessary consequence of the feebleness of the creature, it is the object of pity rather than of abhorrence. In the writings of the advocates of this theory the two senses of the words good and evil, the moral and the physical, are constantly interchanged and confounded; because evil according to their views is really little more than a misfortune, an unavoidable mistake as to what is really good. The distinction, however, between virtue and vice, holiness and sin, as revealed in our consciousness and in the word of God, is absolute and entire. Both are simple ideas. We know what pain is from experience; we know what sin is from the same source. We know that the two are as different as day and night, as light and sound. Any theory, therefore, which tends to confound them, must be false. Accordingly, in the Scriptures while mere suffering is always presented as an object of commiseration, sin is presented as an object of abhorrence and condemnation. The wrath and curse of God are denounced against all sin as its just desert. (4.) This doctrine, therefore, necessarily tends not only 137to lessen our sense of the evil or pollution of sin, but also to destroy the sense of guilt. Our sins are our misfortunes, our infirmities. They are not what conscience pronounces them to be, crimes calling for condign punishment. Sin, however, reveals itself in our consciousness not as a weakness, but as a power. It is greatest in the strongest. It is not the feeble-minded who are the worst of men; but those great in intellect have been, in many cases, the greatest in iniquity. Satan, the worst of created beings, is the most powerful of creatures. (5.) If this theory be correct, sin must be everlasting. As we can never be free from the limitations of our being, we can never be free from sin to which those limitations unavoidably give rise. The soul, therefore, as has been said, is the asymptote of God, forever approaching but never reaching the state of absolute sinlessness.

Sin necessary Antagonism.

Still another theory obviously inconsistent with the facts of consciousness and the teachings of the Bible, is that which accounts for sin on the law of necessary opposition, or antagonism. All life, it is said, implies action and reaction. Even in the material universe the same law prevails. The heavenly bodies are kept in their orbits by the balance of centrifugal and centripetal forces There is polarity in light, and in magnetism and electricity. All chemical changes are produced by attraction and repulsion. Thus in the animal world there is no strength without obstacles to be overcome; no rest without fatigue; no life without death. So also the mind is developed by continual struggles, by constant conflict with what is within and without. The same law, it is urged, must prevail in the moral world. There can be no good without evil. Good is the resistance or the overcoming of evil. What the material universe would be, had matter but one property; if everything were oxygen or everything carbon; what life would be without action and reaction; what the mind would he without the struggle with error and search after truth; such, it is said, the moral world would be without sin; a stagnant, lifeless pool. So far as creatures are concerned, it is maintained, that it is a law of their constitution, that they should be developed by antagonism, by the action of contrary forces, or opposing principles; so that a moral world without sin is an impossibility. Sin is the necessary condition of the existence of virtue.

This general theory is of early origin and wide dissemination In its latest form, as presented by Blasche and Rosenkranz, the universe 138itself, as a product of the self-development of the infinite and absolute Being, involving a separation or difference from the pure and simple one in which was no distinction, is evil. It comes into existence by a fall or apostasy. Thus, as Professor Müller in his work on “Sin,” says, Instead of Pantheism we have a system which nearly approaches Pansatanism. Apart however from this dreadful extreme of the doctrine, in any form it destroys the very nature of sin. What is so called is the universal law of all finite existence. There cannot be action without reaction. There cannot be life without diversity and antagonism of operations. And if good cannot exist without evil, evil ceases to be something to be abhorred and condemned. Men cease to be responsible for what is inseparable from their very nature as creatures, and therefore there is nothing which the conscience can condemn or which God can punish. Our whole moral nature, on this theory, is a delusion, and all the denunciations of Scripture against sin are the ravings of fanaticism.

Schleiermacher's Theory of Sin.

Schleiermacher's doctrine of sin is so related to his whole philosophical and theological system that one cannot be understood without some knowledge of the other. His philosophy is pantheistic. His theology is simply the interpretation of human consciousness in accordance with the fundamental principles of his philosophy. It is called Christian theology because it is the interpretation of the religious consciousness of Christians; i.e., of those who know and believe the facts recorded concerning Christ. The leading principles of his system are the following:

1. God is the absolute Infinity (die einfache and absolute Unendlichkeit), not a person, but simple being with the single attribute of omnipotence. Other attributes which we ascribe to the Infinite Being express not what is in Him (or rather in It), but the effects produced in us. Wisdom, goodness, holiness in God, mean simply the causality in Him which produces those attributes in us.

Absolute power means all power. God, or the absolutely powerful being, is the only cause. Everything that is and everything that occurs are due to his efficiency.

3. This infinite power produces the world. Whatever the relation between the two, whether it is the substance of which the world is the phenomenon, or whether the world is the substance of which God is the life, the world in some sense is. There is a finite as well as an infinite.

139

4. Man, as an integral part of the world, consists of two elements, or stands related both to the finite and infinite, God and nature. There is in man self-consciousness, or a consciousness which is affected by the world. He is in the world and of the world, and is acted upon by the world. On the other hand, he has what Schleiermacher calls Gottesbewusstseyn, or God-consciousness. This is not merely a consciousness of God, but is God in us in the form of consciousness.

5. The normal, or ideal, state of man consists in the absolute and uninterrupted control of the God-consciousness, or of God in us. These two principles he sometimes distinguishes as flesh and spirit. But by flesh he does not mean the body; nor what St. Paul commonly means by it, our corrupt fallen nature; but our whole nature so far as it stands related to the world. It is tantamount, in the terminology of Schleiermacher, to self-consciousness. And by spirit he does not mean the reason, nor what the Bible means by the spirit in man, i.e., the Holy Ghost, but the (Gottesbewusstseyn) God-consciousness, or God in us.

6. Religion consists in the feeling of absolute dependence. That is, in the recognition of the fact that God, or the absolute Being, is the only cause, and that we are merely the form in which his causality is revealed or exercised.

7. The original state of man was not a normal or ideal state. That is, the God-consciousness or divine principle was not strong enough absolutely to control the self-consciousness. That was a state to be reached by progress or development.

8. The feeling which arises from the want of this absolute control of the higher principle is the sense of sin; and the conviction that the higher principle ought to rule is the sense of guilt. With this feeling of sin and guilt arises the sense of the need of redemption.

9. This redemption consists in giving to the God-consciousness complete control; and is effected through Christ, who is the normal or ideal man. That is, He is the man in whom the God-consciousness, the divine nature, God (these, in this system, are interchangeable terms), was from the beginning completely dominant. We become like Him, i.e., are redeemed, partly by the recognition of his true character as sinless, and partly by communion with Him through his Church.

It is plain that this system precludes the possibility of sin in the true Scriptural sense of the term, —

1. Because it precludes the idea of a personal God. If sin be want of conformity to law, there must be a lawgiver, one who 140prescribes the rule of duty to his creatures. But in this system there is no self-conscious, personal ruler who is the moral governor of men.

2. Because the system denies all efficiency, and of course all liberty to the creature. If the Infinite Being is the only agent, then all that is, is due to his direct efficiency; and sin, therefore, is either his work or it is a mere negation.

3. Because what, according to this theory, is called sin is absolutely universal and absolutely necessary. It is the unavoidable consequence or condition of the existence of such a being as man. That is, of a being with a self-consciousness and a God-consciousness, in such proportions and relation that the dominance of the latter can be attained only gradually.

4. Because what are called sin and guilt are only such in our consciousness, or in our subjective apprehension of them. Certain things produce in us the sense of pain, others the feeling of pleasure; some the feeling of approbation, others of disapprobation; and that by the ordinance, so to speak, of God. But pain and pleasure, right and wrong, are merely subjective states. They have no objective reality. We are sinful and guilty only in our own feelings, not in the sight or judgment of God.142142Schleiermacher's Glaubenslehre. Dr. Gess's Uebersicht über das theologische System Schleiermachers. Müller’s Lehre Von der Sünde, vol. i. pp. 412-437. Bretschneider's Dogmatik, pp. 14-38 of Appendix to vol. i. Morell's Philosophy of Religion. How entirely this view of the subject destroys all true sense of sin; how inconsistent it is with all responsibility; how it conflicts with the testimony of our own consciousness and with the teachings of Scripture, must be apparent to all who have not yielded themselves to the control of the pantheistic principles on which this whole system is founded.

The Sensuous Theory.

A sixth theory places the source and seat of sin in the sensuous nature of man. We are composed of body and spirit. Whatever may be the relation of the two, they cannot fail to be recognized as in some sense distinct elements of our nature. All attempts to identify them not only lead to the contradiction of self-evident truths, but to the degradation of the spiritual. If the mind be the product of the body, or the highest function of matter, or if the body be the product of the mind, or the external form in which mind exists, in either way the mind is materialized. “It is,” says Müller,143143Vol. i. p 363. “the undeniable teaching of history that the obliterating the. distinction between spirit and nature always ends in naturalizing 141spirit, and never in spiritualizing nature.” It is a fact of consciousness and of common consent that man consists of soul and body. It is no less certain that by the body he is connected with the external world or nature, and by the soul with the spiritual world and God; that he has wants, desires, appetites, and affections, which find their objects in the material world, and that he has other instincts, affections, and powers which find their objects in the spiritual world. It is self-evident that the latter are higher and ought to be uniformly and always dominant; it is a fact of experience that the reverse is the case; that the lower prevail over the higher; that men are universally to a greater or less extent, and always to an extent that is degrading and sinful, governed by their sensuous nature. They prefer the seen and temporal to the unseen and eternal. They seek the gratification which is to be found in material objects, rather than the blessedness which is to be found in the things of the Spirit. Herein, according to this theory, consists the source and essence of sin. This doctrine, which has prevailed in every age of the Church, has existed in different forms, (1.) In that of the Manichæan system, which teaches the essential evil of matter. (2.) In that of the later Romanism, which teaches that man as originally created was so constituted that the soul was subject to the body, his higher powers being subordinate to his lower or sensuous nature. This original evil in his constitution was, in the case of Adam, according to the Romanists, corrected by the supernatural gift of original righteousness. When that righteousness was lost by the fall, the sensuous element in man's nature became ascendent. Therein consists his habitual sinfulness, and this is the source of all actual transgressions. (3.) The more common form of this theory is essentially the same with the Romish doctrine, except that it does not refer the predominance of the body aver the soul to the loss of original righteousness. The fact that men are governed by the lower rather than by the higher elements of their nature, as a matter of experience, is accounted for in different ways. (1.) Some say it arises from the relative weakness of the higher powers. This amounts to the Leibnitzian doctrine that sin is due to the limitations of our nature, or the feebleness and liability to error belonging to our constitution as creatures. (2.) Others appeal to the liberty of the will. Man as a free agent has the power either to resist or to submit to the enticements of the flesh. If he submits, it is his own fault and sin. There is no necessity and no coercion in the case. But if this submission is universal and uniform it must have a universal and adequate cause. 142That cause is not found in the mere liberty of man, or in his ability to submit. It must be that the cause is uniform and abiding, and such a cause can only be found in the very constitution of man, at least in his present state, which renders the sensuous element in man more powerful than the spiritual. (3.) Others again, while not denying the plenary ability of man to resist the allurements of sense, account for the universal ascendency of the lower powers by a reference to the order of development of our nature. We are so constituted, or we come into the world in such a state that the lower or sensuous part of our nature invariably and of necessity attains strength before the development of the higher powers. The animal propensities of the child are strong, while reason and con science are weak. Hence the lower gain such an ascendency over the higher that it is ever afterwards maintained.

It is obvious, however, that this theory in any of its forms fails to bring out the real nature of sin, or satisfactorily to account for its origin.

1. Sin is not essentially the state or act of a sensuous nature. The creatures presented in Scripture as the most sinful are the fallen spirits, who have no bodies and no sensual appetites.

2. In the second place, the sins which are the most offensive in man, and which most degrade him, and most burden his conscience, have nothing to do with the body. Pride, malice, envy, ambition, and, above all, unbelief and enmity to God, are spiritual sins. They may not only exist in beings who have no material organization, but in the soul when separated from the body, and when its sensuous nature is extinct.

3. This theory tends to lower our sense of sin and guilt. All moral evil becomes mere weakness, the yielding of the feebler powers of the spirit to the stronger forces of the flesh. If sin invariably, and by a law which controls men in their present state of existence, arises from the very constitution of their nature as sentient beings, then the responsibility for sin must be greatly lessened, if not entirely destroyed.

4. If the body be the seat and source of sin, then whatever tends to weaken the body or to reduce the force of its desires must render men more pure and virtuous. If this be so then monkery and asceticism have a foundation in truth. They are wisely adapted to the elevation of the soul above the influence of the flesh and of the world, and of all forms of evil. All experience, however, proves the reverse. Even when those who thus seclude themselves from the world, and macerate the body, are sincere, and faithfully 143adhere to their principles, the whole tendency of their discipline is evil. It nourishes pride, self-righteousness, formality, and false religion. The Pharisees, in the judgment of Christ, with all their strictness of living and constant fasting, were further from the kingdom of heaven than publicans and harlots.

5. On the assumption involved in this theory, the old should be good. In them the lusts of the flesh become extinct. They lose the power to enjoy what pleases the eyes or pampers the tastes of the young. The world to them has lost its attractions. The body becomes a burden. It is in the state to which the youthful ascetic endeavours to reduce his corporeal frame by abstinence and austerity; and yet the older the man, unless renewed by the grace of God, the worse the sinner. The soul is more dead, more insensible to all that is elevating and spiritual, and more completely alienated from God; less grateful for his mercies, less afraid of his wrath, and less affected by all the manifestations of his glory and love. It is not the body, therefore, that is the cause of sin.

6. This theory is opposed to the doctrine of the Bible. The Scriptures do indeed refer a large class of sins to the sensual nature of man; and they represent the flesh (or σάρξ) as the seat of sin and the source of all its manifestations in our present state. They moreover, use the word σαρκικός, carnal, as synonymous with corrupt or sinful. All this, however, does not prove that they teach that man's animal or sensuous nature is the seat and source of his sinfulness. All depends on the sense in which the sacred writers use the words σάρξ and σαρκικός as antithetical to πνεῦμα and πνευματικός. According to one interpretation, σάρξ means the body with its animal life, its instincts and appetites. Or as Bretschneider defines it:144144Lexicon in Novum Testamentum, sub voce.Natura visibilis seu animalis tanquam appetituum naturalium fons et sedes, et quidem in malam partem, quatenus hæc natura animalis, legi divinæ non adstricta, appetit contra legem, igiturque cupiditatum et peccatorum est mater.” If such be the meaning of σάρξ, then σαρκικός is means animal and ψυχικός sensuous. On the other hand, according to this view, πνεῦμα means reason, and πνευματικός, the reasonable, that is, one governed by the reason. According to this view, the σαρκικοί are those who are controlled by their senses and animal nature; and the πνευματικοί, those who are governed by their reason and higher powers. According to the other interpretation of these terms, σάρξ means the fallen nature of man, his nature as it now is; and πνεῦμα the Holy Ghost. Then the σαρκικοί are the unrenewed or natural men, 144i.e., those destitute of the grace of God, and the πνευματικοί, are those in whom the Holy Spirit dwells. It is of course admitted that the word σάρξ is often used in Scripture and especially in St. Paul's writings, for the body; then for what is external and ritual; then for what is perishing. Mankind when designated as flesh are presented as earthly, feeble, and transient. Besides these common and admitted meanings of the word, it is also used in a moral sense. It designates man, or humanity, or human nature as apostate from God. The works of the flesh, therefore, are not merely sensual works, but sinful works, everything in man that is evil. Everything that is a manifestation of his nature as fallen, is included under the works of the flesh. Hence to this class are referred envy, malice, pride, and contentions; as well as rioting and drunkenness, Gal. v. 19-21. To walk after the flesh; to be carnally minded; to be in the flesh, etc., etc. (see Rom. viii. 1-13), are all Scriptural modes of expressing the state, conduct, and life of the men of the world of every class. The meaning of flesh, however, as used in Paul's writings, is most clearly determined by its antithesis to Spirit. That the πνεῦμα of which he speaks is the Holy Spirit, is abundantly clear. He calls it the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of God, the Spirit which is to quicken our mortal bodies; which witnesses with our spirits that we are the children of God; whose dwelling in believers makes them the temple of God. The πνευματικοί, or spiritual, are those in whom the Holy Spirit dwells as the controlling principle of their lives. The Scriptures, therefore, are directly opposed to the theory which makes the body or the sensuous nature of man the source of sin, and its essence to consist in yielding to our appetites and worldly affections, instead of obeying the reason and conscience.

The Theory that all Sin consists in Selfishness.

There is another doctrine of the nature of sin which belongs to the philosophical, rather than to the theological theories on the subject. It makes all sin to consist in selfishness. Selfishness is not to be confounded with self-love. The latter is a natural and original principle of our nature and of the nature of all sentient creatures, whether rational or irrational. Belonging to their original constitution, and necessary to their preservation and well-being, it cannot be sinful. It is simply the desire of happiness which is inseparable from the nature of a sentient being. Selfishness, therefore, is net mere self-love, but the undue preference of our own happiness to the happiness or welfare of other. According to 145some, this preference is of the nature of a desire or feeling; according to others, it is of the nature of a purpose. In the latter view, all sin consists in the purpose to seek our own happiness rather than the general good, or happiness, as it is commonly expressed, of the universe. In either view, sin is the undue preference of ourselves.

This theory is founded on the following principles, or is an essential element in the following system of doctrine: (1.) Happiness is the greatest good. Whatever tends to promote the greatest amount of happiness is for that reason good, and whatever has the opposite tendency is evil. (2.) As happiness is the only and ultimate good, benevolence, or the disposition or purpose to promote happiness, must be the essence and sum of virtue. (3.) As God is infinite, He must be infinitely benevolent, and therefore it must be his desire and purpose to produce the greatest possible amount of happiness. (4.) The universe being the work of God must be designed and adapted to secure that end, and is therefore the best possible world or system of things. (5.) As sin exists in the actual world, it must be the necessary means of the greatest good, and therefore it is consistent, as some say, with the holiness of God to permit and ordain its existence; or, as others say, to create it. (6.) There is no more sin in the world than is necessary to secure the greatest happiness of the universe.

The first and most obvious objection to this whole theory has already been presented, namely, that it destroys the very idea of moral good. It confounds the right with the expedient. It thus contradicts the consciousness and intuitive judgments of the mind. It is intuitively true that the right is right in its own nature, independently of its tendency to promote happiness. To make holiness only a means to an end; to exalt enjoyment above moral excellence, is not only a perversion and a degradation of the higher to the lower, but it is the utter destruction of the principle. This is a matter which, properly speaking, does not admit of proof. Axioms cannot be proved. They can only be affirmed. Should a man deny that sweet and bitter differ, it would be impossible to prove that there is a difference between them. We can only appeal to our own consciousness and affirm that we perceive the difference. And we can appeal to the testimony of all other men, who also affirm the same thing. But after all this is only an assertion of a fact first by the individual, and then by the mass of mankind. In like manner if any man says that there is no difference between the good and the expedient, that a thing is good simply because it is 146expedient; or, if he should say that there is no difference between holiness and sin, we can only refer to our own consciousness and to the common consciousness of men, as contradicting his assertion. We know, therefore, from the very constitution of our nature that the right and the expedient are not identical ideas; that the difference is essential and immutable. And we know from the same source, and with, equal assurance or certainty, that happiness is not the highest good; but on the contrary, that holiness is as much higher than happiness, as heaven is higher than the earth, or Christ than Epicurus. (2.) This theory is as much opposed to our religious, as it is to our moral nature. Our dependence is upon God; our allegiance is to Him; we are bound to do His will irrespective of all consequences; and we are exalted and purified just in proportion as we are lost in Him, adoring his divine perfections, seeking to promote his glory, and recognizing that in fact and of right all things are by Him, through Him, and for Him. According to this theory, however, our allegiance is to the universe of sentient beings. We are bound to promote their happiness. This is our highest and our only obligation. There can therefore be no religion in the proper sense of the word. Religion is the homage and allegiance of the soul to an infinitely perfect personal Being, to whom we owe our existence, who is the source of all good, and for whom all things consist. To substitute the universe for this Being, and to resolve all duty into the obligation to promote the happiness of the universe, is really to render all religion impossible. The universe is not our God. It is not the universe that we love; it is not the universe that we adore; it is not the universe that we fear. It is not the favour of the universe that .s our life, nor is its disapprobation our death. (3.) As this theory is thus opposed to our moral and religious nature, it is evil in its practical effects. It is a proverb, a maxim founded on the nature of things and on universal experience, that the world is governed by ideas. It is doubtful whether history furnishes any more striking illustration of the truth of this maxim than that furnished by the operation of the theory that all virtue is founded in expediency that holiness is that which tends to produce happiness. When the individual man adopts that principle, his whole inward and outward life is determined by it. Every question which comes up for decision, is answered, not by a reference to the law of God, or to the instincts of his moral nature, but by the calculations of expediency. And when a people come under the control of this theory they invariably and of necessity become calculating. If happiness be the 147greatest good, and whatever seems to us adapted to promote happiness is right, then God and the moral law are lost sight of. Our own happiness is apt to become the chief good for us, as it is for the universe. (4.) It need hardly be remarked that we are incompetent to determine what course of conduct will issue in the greatest amount of physical good, and therefore can never tell what is right and what is wrong. It may be said that we are not left to our own sagacity to decide that question. The law of God as revealed in his word, is a divine rule by which we can learn what tends to happiness and what to misery. But this not only degrades the moral law into a series of wise maxims, but it changes the motive of obedience. We obey not out of regard to the authority of God, but because He knows better than we what will promote the greatest good. Besides this, in the questions which daily present them. selves for decision, we are forced to judge for ourselves what is right and wrong, in the light of conscience and of the general principles contained in the Scriptures. And if these principles all resolve themselves into the one maxim, that that is right which promotes happiness, we are obliged to resort to the calculations of expediency, for which in our short-sighted wisdom we are utterly incompetent. (5.) Besides all this, the theory assumes that sin, and the present awful amount of sin, are the necessary means of the greatest good. What then becomes of the distinction between good and evil? If that is good which tends to promote the greatest happiness, and if sin is necessary to secure the greatest happiness, then sin ceases to be sin, and becomes a good. Then also it must be right to do evil that good may come. How, asks the Apostle, on this principle, can God judge the world? If the sins of men not only in fact promote the highest end, but if a man in sinning has the purpose and desire to coöperate with God in producing the greatest amount of happiness, how can he be condemned? If virtue or holiness is right simply because it tends to produce the greatest happiness, and if sin also tends to the same result, then the man who sins with a view to the greatest good is just as virtuous as the man who practices holiness with the same end in view. It may be said that it is a contradiction to say that a man sins with a truly benevolent purpose; for the essence of virtue is to purpose the greatest good, and therefore whatever is done in the execution of that purpose, is virtuous. Exactly so. The objection itself shows that right becomes wrong and wrong right, according to the design with which it is committed or performed. And therefore, if a man lies, steals, or murders with a design to promote the 148good of society, of the church, or of the universe, he is a virtuous man. It was principally for the adoption of, and the carrying into practice this doctrine, that the Jesuits became an abomination in the sight of Christendom and were banished from all civilised countries. Jesuits were however, unhappily not its only advocates. The principle has been widely disseminated in books on morals, and has been adopted by theologians as the foundation of their whole system of Christian doctrine. (6.) If happiness be not the highest good, then benevolence is not the sum of all excellence, and selfishness as the opposite of benevolence, cannot be the essence of sin. On this point, again, appeal may be safely made to our own consciousness and to the common consciousness of men. Our moral nature teaches us, on the one hand, that all virtue cannot be resolved into benevolence: justice, fidelity, humility, forbearance, patience, constancy, spiritual mindedness, the love of God, gratitude to Christ, anti zeal for his glory, do not reveal themselves in consciousness as forms of benevolence. They are as distinct to the moral sense, as red, blue, and green are distinct to the eye. On the other hand, unbelief, hardness of heart, ingratitude, impenitence, malice, and enmity towards God, are not modifications of selfishness. These attempts at simplification are not only unphilosophical, but also dangerous; as they lead to confounding things which differ, and, as we have seen, to denying the essential nature of moral distinctions.

The doctrine which makes all sin to consist in selfishness, as it has been generally held, especially in this country, considers selfishness as the opposite of benevolence agreeably to the theory which has just been considered. There are others, however, that mean by it the opposite to the love of God. As God is the proper centre of the soul and the sum of all perfection, apostasy from Him is the essence of sin; apostasy from God involves, it is said, a falling back into ourselves, and making self the centre of our being. Thus Müller,145145Lehre von der Sünde, vol. i. pp. 134-158. Tholuck,146146Von der Sünde und vom Versöhner, p. 32. and many others, make alienation from God the primary principle of sin. But dethroning God necessitates the putting an idol in his place. That idol, Augustine and after him numerous writers of different schools, say, is the creature; as the Apostle concisely describes the wickedness of men, by saying, that they “worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator.” But Müller argues that as it is self the sinner seeks in the creature, the real principle of sin consists in putting self in the place of God, and making it the highest end of life and its gratification or 149satisfaction the great object of pursuit. It of course is not denied, that selfishness, it some of its forms, includes a large class of the sins of which men are guilty. What is objected to is, the making selfishness the essence of all sin, or the attempt to reduce all the manifestations of moral evil to this one principle. This, cannot be done. There is disinterested sin as well as disinterested benevolence. A man may as truly and as deliberately sacrifice himself in sinning, as in doing good. Many parents have violated the law of God not for their own benefit, but for the benefit of their children. It may be said that this is only a form of selfishness, because the happiness of their children is their happiness, and the sin is committed for the gratification of their parental feelings. To this, however, it may be answered, first, that it is contradictory to say that what is done for another is done for ourselves. When a mother sacrifices wealth and life for her child, although she acts under the impulse of the maternal instinct, she acts disinterestedly. The sacrifice consists in preferring her child to herself. In the second place, if an act ceases to be virtuous when its performance meets and satisfies some demand of our nature, then no act can be virtuous. When a man does any good work, he satisfies his conscience. If lie does an act of kindness to the poor, if he devotes himself to the relief of the sick or the prisoner, he gratifies his benevolent feelings. If he seeks the favour and fellowship of God, and consecrates himself to his service, he gratifies the noblest principles of his nature, and experiences the highest enjoyment of which he is susceptible. It is not necessary therefore, in order that an act, whether right or wrong, should be disinterested, that it should not minister to our gratification. All depends on the motive for which it is done. If that motive be the happiness of another and not our own, the act is disinterested. It is contrary, therefore, to the testimony of every man's consciousness to say that selfishness is the essential element of sin. There is no selfishness in malice, nor in enmity to God. These are far higher forms of evil than mere selfishness. The true nature of sin is alienation from God and opposition to his character and will. it is the opposite of holiness and does not admit of being reduced to any one principle, either the love of the creature or the love of self.


« Prev 2. Philosophical Theories of the Nature of Sin. Next »
Please login or register to save highlights and make annotations
Corrections disabled for this book
Proofing disabled for this book
Printer-friendly version





Advertisements



| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |