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§ 13. Original Sin.
The effects of Adam’s sin upon his posterity are declared in our standards to be, (1.) The guilt of his first sin. (2.) The loss of original righteousness. (3.) The corruption of our whole nature, which (i.e., which corruption), is commonly called original sin. Commonly, but not always. Not unfrequently by original sin is meant all the subjective evil consequences of the apostasy of our first parent, and it therefore includes all three of the particulars just mentioned. The National Synod of France, therefore, condemned the doctrine of Placæus, because he made original sin to consist of inherent, hereditary depravity, to the exclusion of the guilt of Adam’s first sin.
This inherent corruption in which all men since the fall are born, is properly called original sin, (1.) Because it is truly of the nature of sin. (2.) Because it flows from our first parents as the origin of our race. (3.) Because it is the origin of all other sins; and (4.) Because it is in its nature distinguished from actual sins.
The Nature of Original Sin.
As to the nature of this hereditary corruption, although the faith of the Church Catholic, at least of the Latin, Lutheran, and Reformed churches, has been, in all that is essential, uniform, yet diversity of opinion has prevailed among theologians. (1.) According to many of the Greek fathers, and in later times, of the extreme Remonstrants or Arminians, it is a physical, rather than a moral evil. Adam’s physical condition was deteriorated by his apostasy, and that deteriorated natural constitution has descended to his posterity. (2.) According to others, concupiscence, or native corruption, is such an ascendency of man’s sensuous, or animal nature over his higher attributes of reason and conscience, as involves a great proneness to sin, but is not itself sinful. Some of the Romish theologians distinctly avow this doctrine, and some Protestants, as we have seen, maintain that this is the symbolical doctrine of the Roman Church itself. The same view has been advocated by some divines of our own age and country. (3.) Others hold a doctrine nearly allied to that just mentioned. They 228speak of inherent depravity; and admit that it is of the nature of a moral corruption, but nevertheless deny that it brings guilt upon the soul, until it is exercised, assented to, and cherished. (4.) The doctrine of the Reformed and Lutheran churches upon this subject is thus presented in their authorized Confessions: —
The “Augsburg Confession.”229229I. ii. 1; Hase, Libre Symbolici, p. 9. “Docent quod post lapsum Adæ omnes homines, secundum naturam propagati, nascantur cum peccato, hoc est, sine metu Dei, sine fiducia erga Deum, et cum concupiscentia.”
“Articuli Smalcaldici.”230230III. i. 3; Ibid. p. 317. “Peccatum hæreditarium tam profunda et tetra est corruptio naturæ, ut nullius hominis ratione intelligi possit, sed ex Scripturæ patefactione agnoscenda, et credenda sit.”
“Formula Corcordiæ.”231231I. 10. 11; Ibid. p. 640, the second of that number. “Credendum est . . . . quod sit per omnia totalis carentia, defectus seu privatio concreatæ in Paradiso justitiæ originalis seu imaginis Dei, ad quam homo initio in veritate, sanctitate atque justitia creatus fuerat, et quod simul etiam sit impotentia et inaptitudo, ἀδυναμία et stupiditas, qua homo ad omnia divina seu spiritualia sit prorsus ineptus. . . . . Præterea, quod peccatum originale in humana natura non tantummodo sit ejusmodi totalis carentia, seu defectus omnium bonorum in rebus spiritualibus ad Deum pertinentibus: sed quod sit etiam, loco imaginis Dei amissæ in homine, intima, pessima, profundissima (instar cujusdam abyssi), inscrutabilis et ineffabilis corruptio totius naturæ et omnium virium, imprimis vero superiorum et principalium animæ facultatum, in mente, intellectu, corde et voluntate.”
“Constat Christianos non tantum actualia delicta . . . peccata esse agnoscere et definire debere, sed etiam . . . hæreditarium morbum . . . imprimis pro horribili peccato, et quidem pro principio et capite omnium peccatorum (e quo reliquæ transgressiones, tanquam e radice nascantur . . .) omnino habendum esse.”232232I. 5; Ibid. p. 640, the first of that number.
“Confessio Helvetica II.”233233VIII.; Niemeyer, Collectio Confessionum, p. 477. “Qualis (homo Adam) factus est a lapsu, tales sunt omnes, qui ex ipso prognati sunt, peccato inquam, morti, variisque obnoxii calamitatibus. Peccatum autem intelligimus esse nativam illam hominis corruptionem ex primis illis nostris parentibus in nos omnes derivatam vel propagatam, qua concupiscentiis pravis immersi et a bono aversi, ad omne vero malum propensi, pleni omni nequitia, diffidentia, contemptu et odio Dei, nihil boni ex nobis ipsis facere, imo ne cogitare quidem possumus.”229
“Articuli XXXIX.”235235IX.; Niemeyer, p. 603. “Peccatum originis . . . est vitium et depravatio naturæ cujuslibet hominis ex Adamo naturaliter propagati, qua fit ut ab originali justitia quam longissime distet; ad malum sua natura propendeat et caro semper adversus spiritum concupiscat, unde in unoquoque nascentium iram Dei atque damnationem meretur.”
“Confessio Belgica.”236236XV.; Ibid. p. 370. “Peccatum originis est corruptio totius naturæ et vitium hæreditarium, quo et ipsi infantes in matris utero polluti sunt: quodque veluti noxia quædam radix genus omne peccatorum in homine producit, estque tam fœdum atque execrabile coram Deo, ut ad universi generis humani condemnationem sufficiat.”
“Catechesis Heidelbergensis.” (Pravitas humanæ naturæ existit) “ex lapsu et inobedientia primorum parentum Adami et Evæ. Hinc natura nostra ita est depravata, ut omnes in peccatis concipiamur et nascamur.”237237VII.; Ibid. p. 431.
By nature in these Confessions it is expressly taught, we are not to understand essence or substance (as was held by Matthias Flacius, and by him only at the time of the Reformation). On this point the Form of Concord says: That although original sin corrupts our whole nature, yet the essence or substance of the soul is one thing, and original sin is another. “Discrimen igitur retinendum est inter naturam nostram, qualis a Deo creata est, hodieque conservatur, in qua peccatum originale habitat, et inter ipsum peccatum originis, quod in natura habitat. Hæc enim duo secundum sacræ Scripturæ regulam distincte considerari, doceri et credi debent et possunt.”238238I. 33; Hase, p. 645.
“The Westminster Confession.”239239Chapter VI. §§ 2-5. “By this sin they (our first parents) fell from their original righteousness and communion with God, and so became dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the faculties and parts of soul and body. They being the root of all mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed, and the same death in sin and corrupted nature conveyed to all their posterity, descending from them by ordinary generation. From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil, do proceed all actual transgressions. This corruption of nature, during this life, doth remain in those that are regenerated; and although it be through Christ pardoned and mortified, yet both itself, and all the motions thereof, are truly and properly sin.”230
Statement of the Protestant Doctrine.
From the above statements it appears that, according to the doctrine of the Protestant churches, original sin, or corruption of nature derived front Adam, is not, (1.) A corruption of the substance or essence of the soul. (2.) Neither is it an essential element infused into the soul as poison is mixed with wine. The Forum of Concord, for example, denies that the evil dispositions of our fallen nature are “conditiones, seu concreatæ essentiales naturæ proprietates.” Original sin is declared to be an “accidens, i.e., quod non per se subsistit, sed in aliqua substantia est, et ab ea discerni potest.” The affirmative statements on this subject are (1.) That this corruption of nature affects the whole soul. (2.) That it consists in the loss or absence of original righteousness, and consequent entire moral depravity of our nature, including or manifesting itself in an aversion from all spiritual good, or from God, and an inclination to all evil. (3.) That it is truly and properly of the nature of sin, involving both guilt and pollution. (4.) That it retains its character as sin even in the regenerated. (5.) That it renders the soul spiritually dead, so that the natural, or unrenewed man, is entirely unable of himself to do anything good in the sight of God.
This doctrine therefore stands opposed, —
1. To that which teaches that the race of man is uninjured by the fall of Adam.
2. To that which teaches that the evils consequent on the fall are merely physical.
3. To the doctrine which makes original sin entirely negative, consisting in the want of original righteousness.
4. To the doctrine which admits a hereditary depravity of nature, and makes it consist in an inclination to sin, but denies that it is itself sinful. Some of the orthodox theologians made a distinction between vitium and peccatum. The latter term they wished to confine to actual sin, while the former was used to designate indwelling and hereditary sinfulness. There are serious objections to this distinction: first, that vitium, as thus understood, is really sin; it includes both guilt and pollution, and is so defined by Vitringa and others who make the distinction. Secondly, it is opposed to established theological usage. Depravity, or inherent hereditary corruption, has always been designated peccatum, and therefore to say that it is not peccatum, but merely vitium, produces confusion and leads to error. Thirdly, it is contrary to Scripture 231for the Bible undeniably designates indwelling or hereditary corruption, or vitium, as ἁμαρτία. This is acknowledged by Romanists who deny that such concupiscence after regeneration is of the nature of sin.240240See above, pp. 178, 179.
5. The fifth form of doctrine to which the Protestant faith stands opposed, is that which admits a moral deterioration of our nature, which deserves the displeasure of God, and which is therefore truly sin, and yet denies that the evil is so great as to amount to spiritual death, and to involve the entire inability of the natural man to what is spiritually good.
6. And the doctrine of the Protestant churches is opposed to the teachings of those who deny that original sin affects the whole man, and assert that it has its seat exclusively in the affections or the heart, while the understanding and reason are uninjured or uninfluenced.
In order to sustain the Augustinian (or Protestant) doctrine of original sin, therefore, three points are to be established: I. That all mankind descending from Adam by ordinary generation are born destitute of original righteousness, and the subjects of a corruption of nature which is truly and properly sin. II. That this original corruption affects the whole man; not the body only to the exclusion of the soul; not the lower faculties of the soul to the exclusion of the higher; and not the heart to the exclusion of the intellectual powers. III. That it is of such a nature as that before regeneration fallen men are “utterly indisposed, disabled, and opposed to all good.”
Proof of the Doctrine of Original Sin.
First Argument from the Universality of Sin.
The first argument in proof of this doctrine is drawn from the universal sinfulness of men. All men are sinners. This is undeniably the doctrine of the Scriptures. It is asserted, assumed, and proved. The assertions of this fact are too numerous to be quoted. In 1 Kings viii. 46, it is said, “There is no man that sinneth not.” Eccl. vii. 20, “There is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not.” Is. liii. 6, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way.” lxiv. 6, “We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” Ps. cxxx. 3, “If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?” Ps. cxliii. 2, “In thy sight shall no man living 232be justified.” Rom. iii. 19, “The whole world (πᾶς ὁ κόσμος) is guilty before God.” Verses 22, 23, “There is no difference: for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” Gal. iii. 22, “The Scripture hath concluded all under sin;” i.e., hath declared all men to be under the power and condemnation of sin. James iii. 2, “In many things we offend all.” 1 John i. 8, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” Verse 10, “If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. 1 John v. 19, “The whole world lieth in wickedness.” Such are only a few of the assertions of the universal sinfulness of men with which the Scriptures abound.
But in the second place, this melancholy fact is constantly assumed in the Word of God. The Bible everywhere addresses men as sinners. The religion which it reveals is a religion for sinners. All the institutions of the Old Testament, and all the doctrines of the New, take it for granted that men universally are under the power and condemnation of sin. “The world,” as used in Scripture, designates the mass of mankind, as distinguished from the church, or the regenerated people of God, and always involves in its application the idea of sin. The world hateth you. I am not of the world. I have chosen you out of the world. All the exhortations of the Scriptures addressed to men indiscriminately, calling them to repentance, of necessity assume the universality of sin. The same is true of the general threatenings and promises of the Word of God. In short, if all men are not sinners, the Bible is not adapted to their real character and state.
But the Scriptures not only directly assert and everywhere assume the universality of sin among men, but this is a point which perhaps more than any other is made the subject of a formal and protracted argument. The Apostle, especially in his Epistle to the Romans, begins with a regular process of proof, that all, whether Jews or Gentiles, are under sin. Until this fact is admitted and acknowledged, there is no place for and no need of the Gospel, which is God’s method of saving sinners. Paul therefore begins by asserting God’s purpose to punish all sin. He then shows that the Gentiles are universally chargeable with the sin of impiety; that although knowing God, they neither worship him as God, nor are thankful. The natural, judicial, and therefore the unavoidable consequence of impiety, according to the Apostle’s doctrine, is immorality. Those who abandon Him, God gives up to the unrestrained dominion of evil. The whole Gentile world 233therefore was sunk in sin. With the Jews, he tells us, the case was no better. They had more correct knowledge of God and of his law, and many institutions of divine appointment, so that their advantages were great every way. Nevertheless they were as truly and as universally sinful as the Gentiles. Their own Scriptures, which of course were addressed to them, expressly declare, There is none righteous, no not one. There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no not one. Therefore, he concludes, The whole world is guilty before God. Jews and Gentiles are all under sin. Therefore by the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified. This is the foundation of the Apostle’s whole doctrinal system, and of the religion of the Bible. Jesus Christ came to save his people from their sins. If men are not sinners Christ is not the Salvator Hominum.
What the Scriptures so clearly teach is taught no less clearly by experience and history. Every man knows that he himself is a sinner. He knows that every human being whom he ever saw, is in the same state of apostasy from God. History contains the record of no sinless man, save the Man Christ Jesus, who, by being sinless, is distinguished from all other men. We have no account of any family, tribe, or nation free from the contamination of sin. The universality of sin among men is therefore one of the most undeniable doctrines of Scripture, and one of the most certain facts of experience.
Second Argument from the Entire Sinfulness of Men.
This universal depravity of men is no slight evil. The whole human race, by their apostasy from God, are totally depraved. By total depravity, is not meant that all men are equally wicked; nor that any man is as thoroughly corrupt as it is possible for a man to be; nor that men are destitute of all moral virtues. The Scriptures recognize the fact, which experience abundantly confirms, that men, to a greater or less degree, are honest in dealings, kind in their feelings, and beneficent in their conduct. Even the heathen, the Apostle teaches us, do by nature the things of the law. They are more or less under the dominion of conscience, which approves or disapproves their moral conduct. All this is perfectly consistent with the Scriptural doctrine of total depravity, which includes the entire absence of holiness; the want of due apprehensions of the divine perfections, and of our relation to God 234as our Creator, Preserver, Benefactor, Governor, and Redeemer. There is common to all men a total alienation of the soul from God so that no unrenewed man either understands or seeks after God; no such man ever makes God his portion, or God’s glory the end of his being. The apostasy from God is total or complete. All men worship and serve the creature rather than, and more than the Creator. They are all therefore declared in Scripture to be spiritually dead. They are destitute of any principle of spiritual life. The dreadful extent and depth of this corruption of our nature are proved, —
1. By its fruits; by the fearful prevalence of the sins of the flesh, of sins of violence, of the sins of the heart, as pride, envy, and malice; of the sins of the tongue, as slander and deceit; of the sins of irreligion, of ingratitude, profanity, and blasphemy; which have marked the whole history of our race, and which still distinguish the state of the whole world.
2. By the consideration that the claims of God on our supreme reverence, love, and obedience, which are habitually and universally disregarded by unrenewed men, are infinitely great. That is, they are so great that they cannot be imagined to be greater. These claims are not only ignored in times of excitement and passion, but habitually and constantly. Men live without God. They are, says the Apostle, Atheists. This alienation from God is so great and so universal, that the Scriptures say that men are the enemies of God; that the carnal mind, i.e., that state of mind which belongs to all men in their natural state, is enmity against God. This is proved not only by neglect and disobedience, but also by direct rebellion against his authority, when in his providence he takes away our idols; or when his law, with its inexorable demands and its fearful penalty, is sent home upon the conscience, and God is seen to be a consuming fire.
3. A third proof of the dreadful evil of this hereditary corruption is seen in the universal rejection of Christ by those whom He came to save. He is in himself the chief among ten thousand, and altogether lovely; uniting in his own person all the perfections of the Godhead, and all the excellences of humanity. His mission was one of love, of a love utterly incomprehensible, unmerited, immutable, and infinite. Through love He not only humbled himself to be born of a woman, and to be made under the law, but to live a life of poverty, sorrow, and persecution; to endure inconceivably great sufferings for our sakes, and finally to bear our sins in his own body on the tree. He has 235rendered it possible for God to be just and yet justify the ungodly. He therefore offers blessings of infinite value, without money and without price, to all who will accept them. He has secured, and offers to us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption; to make us kings and priests unto God, and to exalt us to an unending state of inconceivable glory and blessedness. Notwithstanding all this; notwithstanding the divine excellence of his person, the greatness of his love, the depth of his sufferings, and the value of the blessings which He has provided, and without which we must perish eternally, men universally, when left to themselves, reject Him. He came to his own and his own received Him not. The world hated, and still hates Him; will not recognize Him as their God and Saviour; will not accept of his offers; will neither love nor serve Him. The conduct of men towards Christ is the clearest proof of the apostasy of our race, and of the depth of the depravity into which they are sunk; and, so far as the hearers of the gospel are concerned, is the great ground of their condemnation. All other grounds seem merged into this, for our Lord says, that men are condemned because they do not believe in the only begotten Son of God. And the Holy Spirit, by the mouth of the Apostle, says, “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ let him be anathema maranatha;” a sentence which will be ratified in the day of judgment by every rational creature, fallen and unfallen, in the universe.
The Sinfulness of Men Incorrigible.
4. Another proof of the point under consideration is found in the incorrigible nature of original sin. It is, so far as we are concerned, an incurable malady. Men are not so besotted even by the fall as to lose their moral nature. They know that sin is an evil, and that it exposes them to the righteous judgment of God. From the beginning of the world, therefore, they have tried not only to expiate, but also to destroy it. They have resorted to all means possible to them for this purpose. They have tried the resources of philosophy and of moral culture. They have withdrawn from the contaminating society of their fellow-men. They have summoned all the energies of their nature, and all the powers of their will. They have subjected themselves to the most painful acts of self-denial, to ascetic observances in all their forms. The only result of these efforts has been that these anchorites have become like whitened sepulchres, which appear outwardly beautiful, while within they are filled with dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Men have been slow to learn what our Lord teaches, that 236it is impossible to make the fruit good until the tree is good. And evil, however, which is so indestructible must be very great.
Argument from the Experience of God’s People.
5. We may appeal on this subject to the experience of God’s people in every age and in every part of the world. In no one respect has that experience been more uniform, than in the conviction of their depravity in the sight of an infinitely Holy God. The patriarch Job, represented as the best man of his generation, placed his hand upon his mouth, and his mouth in the dust before God, and declared that he abhorred himself, and repented in dust and ashes. David’s Penitential Psalms are filled not only with the confessions of sin, but also with the avowals of his deep depravity in the sight of God. Isaiah cried out, Woe is me! I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell among a people of unclean lips. The ancient prophets, even when sanctified from the womb, pronounced their own righteousnesses as filthy rags. What is said of the body politic is everywhere represented as true of the individual man. The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot, even unto the head, there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores. In the New Testament the sacred writers evince the same deep sense of their own sinfulness, and strong conviction of the sinfulness of the race to which they belong. Paul speaks of himself as the chief of sinners. He complains that he was carnal, sold under sin. He groans under the burden of an evil nature, saying, O, wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death? From the days of the Apostles to the present time, there has been no diversity as to this point in the experience of Christians. There is no disposition ever evinced by them to palliate or excuse their sinfulness before God. They uniformly and everywhere, and just in proportion to their holiness, humble themselves under a sense of their guilt and pollution, and abhor themselves repenting in dust and ashes. This is not an irrational, nor is it an exaggerated experience. It is the natural effect of the apprehension of the truth; of even a partial discernment of the holiness of God, of the spirituality of the law, and of the want of conformity to that divine standard. There is always connected with this experience of sin, the conviction that our sense of its evil and its power over us, and consequently of our guilt and pollution, is altogether inadequate. It is always a part of the believer’s burden, that he feels less than his reason and conscience enlightened by the 237Scriptures, teach him he ought to feel of his moral corruption and degradation.
6. It need scarcely be added, that what the Scriptures so manifestly teach indirectly of the depth of the corruption of our fallen nature, they teach also by direct assertion. The human heart is pronounced deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. Even in the beginning (Gen. vi. 5, 6), it was said, “God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Job xv. 14-16, “What is man, that he should be clean? And he which is born of a woman, that he should be righteous? Behold, he putteth no trust in his saints; yea, the heavens are not clean in his sight. How much more abominable and filthy is man, which drinketh iniquity like water.” Eccl. ix. 3, “The heart of the sons of men is full of evil, and madness is in their heart while they live, and after that they go to the dead.” With such passages the Word of God is filled. It in the most explicit terms pronounces the degradation and moral corruption of man consequent on the fall, to be a total apostasy from God; a state of spiritual death, as implying the entire absence of any true holiness.
Third Argument from the early Manifestation of Sin.
A third great fact of Scripture and experience on this subject is the early manifestation of sin. As soon as a child is capable of moral action, it gives evidence of a perverted moral character. We not only see the manifestations of anger, malice, selfishness, envy, pride, and other evil dispositions, but the whole development of the soul is toward the world. The soul of a child turns by an inward law from God to the creature, from the things that are unseen and eternal to the things that are seen and temporal. It is in its earliest manifestations, worldly, of the earth, earthy. As this is the testimony of universal experience, so also it is the doctrine of the Bible. Job xi. 12, “Man” is “born like a wild ass’s colt.” Ps. lviii. 3, “The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies.” Prov. xxii. 15, “Foolishness (moral evil) is bound in the heart of a child.”
These three undeniable facts, the universality of sin among men, its controlling power, and its early manifestation, are clear proof of the corruption of our common nature. It is a principle of judgment universally recognized and acted upon, that a course of action in any creature, rational or irrational, which is universal and controlling, and which is adopted uniformly from the beginning of its 238being, determines and reveals its nature. That all individuals of certain species of animals live on prey; that all the individuals of another species live on herbs; that some are amphibious, and others live only on the land; some are gregarious, others solitary; some mild and docile, others ferocious and untamable; not under certain circumstances and conditions, but always and everywhere, under all the different circumstances of their being, is regarded as proof of their natural constitution. It shows what they are by nature, as distinguished from what they are, or may be made by external circumstances and culture. The same principle is applied to our judgments of men. Whatever is variable and limited in its manifestations; whatever is found in some men and not in others, we attribute to peculiar and limited causes, but what is universal and controlling is uniformly referred to the nature of man. Some of these universally manifested modes of action among men are referrible to the essential attributes of their nature, as reason and conscience. The fact that all men perform rational actions is a clear proof that they are rational creatures; and the fact that they perform moral actions is proof that they have a moral nature. Other universal modes of action are referred not to the essential attributes of human nature, but to its present abiding state. That all men seek ease and self-indulgence and prefer themselves to others, is not to be attributed to our nature as men, but to our present state. As the fact that all men perform moral actions is proof that they have a moral nature, so the fact that such moral action is always evil, or that all men sin from the earliest development of their powers, is a proof that their moral nature is depraved. It is utterly inconsistent with all just ideas of God that He created man with a nature which with absolute uniformity leads him to sin and destruction; or that He placed him in circumstances which inevitably secure his ruin. The present state of human nature cannot therefore be its normal and original condition. We are a fallen race. Our nature has become corrupted by our apostasy from God, and therefore every imagination (i.e., every exercise) of the thoughts of man’s heart is only evil continually. See also Gen. viii. 21. This is the Scriptural and the only rational solution of the undeniable fact of the deep, universal, and early manifested sinfulness of men in all ages, of every class, and in every part of the world.
Evasions of the Foregoing Arguments.
The methods adopted by those who deny the doctrine of original sin, to account for the universality of sin, are in the highest degree unsatisfactory.239
1. It is not necessary here to refer to the theories which get over this great difficulty either by denying the existence of sin, or by extenuating its evil nature, so that the difficulty ceases to exist. If there be really no such evil as sin, there is no sin to account for. But the fact of the existence of sin, of its universality and of its power, is too palpable and too much a matter of consciousness to admit of being denied or ignored.
2. Others contend that we have in the free agency of man a sufficient solution of the universality of sin. Men can sin; they choose to sin, and no further reason for the fact need be demanded. If Adam sinned without an antecedent corrupt nature, why, it is asked, must corruption of nature be assumed to account for the fact that other men sin? A uniform effect, however, demands a uniform cause. That a man can walk is no adequate reason why he always walks in one direction. A man may exercise his faculties to attain one object or another; the fact that he does devote them through a long life to the acquisition of wealth is not accounted for by saying that he is a free agent. The question is, Why his free agency is always exercised in one particular direction. The fact, therefore, that men are free agents is no solution for the universal sinfulness and total apostasy of our race from God.
3. Others seek in the order of development of the constituent elements of our nature, an explanation of the fact in question. We are so constituted that the sensuous faculties are called into exercise before the higher powers of reason and conscience. The former therefore attain an undue ascendency, and lead the child and the man to obey the lower instincts of his nature, when he should be guided by his higher faculties. But, in the first place, this is altogether an inadequate conception of our hereditary depravity. It does not consist exclusively or principally in the ascendency of the flesh (in the limited sense of that word) over the Spirit. It is a far deeper and more radical evil. It is spiritual death, according to the express declarations of the Scriptures. And, in the second place, it cannot be the normal condition of man that his natural faculties should develop in such order as inevitably and universally to lead to his moral degradation and ruin. And, in the third place, this theory relieves no difficulties while it accounts for no facts. It is as hard to reconcile with the justice and goodness of God that men should be born with a nature so constituted as certainly to lead them to sin, as that they should be born in a state of sin. It denies any fair probation to the race. According to the Scriptures and the doctrine of the Church, mankind had not only a fair but a 240favourable probation in Adam, who stood for them in the maturity and full perfection of his nature; and with every facility, motive and consideration adapted to secure his fidelity. This is far easier of belief than the assumption that God places the child in the first dawn of reason on its probation for eternity, with a nature already perverted, and under circumstances which in every case infallibly lead to its destruction. The only solution therefore which at all meets the case is the Scriptural doctrine that all mankind fell in Adam’s first transgression, and bearing the penalty of his sin, they come into the world in a state of spiritual death, the evidence of which is seen and felt in the universality, the controlling power, and the early manifestation of sin.
The Scriptures expressly Teach the Doctrine.
The Scriptures not only indirectly teach the doctrine of original sin, or of the hereditary, sinful corruption of our nature as derived from Adam, by teaching, as we have seen, the universal and total depravity of our race, but they directly assert the doctrine. They not only teach expressly that men sin universally and from the first dawn of their being, but they also assert that the heart of man is evil. It is declared to be “Deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: Who can know it?” (Jer. xvii. 9.) “The heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.” (Eccl. viii. 11.) Every imagination of the thoughts of his (man’s) heart is only evil.” (Gen. vi. 5); or as it is in Gen. viii. 21, “The imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” By heart in Scriptural language is meant the man himself; the soul; that which is the seat and source of life. It is that which thinks, feels, desires, and wills. It is that out of which good or evil thoughts, desires, and purposes proceed. It never signifies a mere act, or a transient state of the soul. It is that which is abiding, which determines character. It bears the same relation to acts that the soil does to its productions. As a good soil brings forth herbs suited for man and beast, and an evil soil brings forth briars and thorns, so we are told that the human heart (human nature in its present state), is proved to be evil by the prolific crop of sins which it everywhere and always produces. Still more distinctly is this doctrine taught in Matt. vii. 16-19, where our Lord says that men are known by their fruits. “Do men gather grapes or thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth 241good fruit.” And again, in Matt. xii. 33, “Either make the tree good and his fruit good, or else make the tree corrupt and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit.” The very pith and point of these instructions is, that moral acts are a revelation of moral character. They do not constitute it, but simply manifest what it is. The fruit of a tree reveals the nature of the tree. It does not make that nature, but simply proves what it is. So in the case of man, his moral exercises, his thoughts and feelings, as well as his external acts, are determined by an internal cause. There is something in the nature of the man distinct from his acts and anterior to them, which determines his conduct (i.e., all his conscious exercises), to be either good or evil. If men are universally sinful, it is, according to our Lord’s doctrine, proof positive that their nature is evil; as much so as corrupt fruit proves the tree to be corrupt. When therefore the Scriptures assert that the heart of man is “desperately wicked,” they assert precisely what the Church means when she asserts our nature to be depraved. Neither the word, heart, nor nature, in such connections means substance or essence, but natural disposition. The words express a quality as distinguished from an essential attribute or property. Even when we speak of the nature of a tree, we do not mean its essence, but its quality; something which can be modified or changed without a change of substance. Thus our Lord speaks of making a tree good, or making it evil. The explanation of the Scriptural meaning of the word heart given above is confirmed by analogous and synonymous forums of expression used in the Bible. What is sometimes designated as an evil heart is called “the old man,” “a law of sin in our members,” “the flesh,” “the carnal mind,” etc. And on the other hand, what is called “a new heart,” is called “the new man,” “a new creature” (or nature), “the law of the Spirit,” “the spiritual mind,” etc. All these terms and phrases designate what is inherent, immanent, and abiding, as opposed to what is transient and voluntary. The former class of terms is used to describe the nature of man before it is regenerated, and the other to describe the change consequent on regeneration. The Scriptures, therefore, in declaring the heart of man to be deceitful and desperately wicked, and its imaginations or exercises to be only evil continually, assert in direct terms the Church doctrine of original sin.
The Psalmist also directly asserts this doctrine when he says (Ps. li. 5), “Behold I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” In the preceding verses he had confessed 242his actual sins; and he here humbles himself still more completely before God by acknowledging his innate, hereditary depravity; a depravity which he did not regard as a mere weakness, or inclination to evil, but which he pronounces iniquity and sin. To this inherent, hereditary corruption he refers in the subsequent parts of the Psalm as his chief burden from which he most earnestly desired to be delivered. “Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts; and in the hidden part shalt thou make me to know wisdom. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. . . . . Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” It was his inward parts, his interior nature, which had been shapen in iniquity and conceived in sin, which he prayed might be purified and renewed. The whole spirit of this Psalm and the connection in which the words of the fifth verse occur, have constrained the great majority of commentators and readers of the Scripture to recognize in this passage a direct affirmation of the doctrine of original sin. Of course no doctrine rests on any one isolated passage. What is taught in one place is sure to be assumed or asserted in other places. What David says of himself as born in sin is confirmed by other representations of Scripture, which show that what was true of him is no less true of all mankind. Thus (Job xiv. 4), “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean.” (xv. 14), “What is man that he should be clean? and he which is born of a woman, that he should be righteous?” Thus also our Lord says (John iii. 6), “That which is born of the flesh is flesh.” This clearly means that, That which is born of corrupt parents is itself corrupt; and is corrupt in virtue of its descent or derivation. This is plain, (1.) From the common usage of the word flesh in a religious sense in the Scriptures. Besides the primary and secondary meanings of the word it is familiarly used in the Bible to designate our fallen and corrupt nature. Hence to be “in the flesh” is to be in a natural, unrenewed state; the works of the flesh, are works springing from a corrupt nature; to walk after the flesh, is to live under the controlling influence of a sinful nature. Hence to be carnal, or carnally minded, is to be corrupt, or, as Paul explains it, sold under, a slave to sin. (2.) Because the flesh is here opposed to the Spirit. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” As the latter member of this verse undoubtedly means that, That which is derived from the Holy Spirit is holy, or conformed to the nature of the Holy Spirit; the former member must mean that, That which is 243derived from an evil source is itself evil. A child born of fallen parents derives from them a fallen, corrupt nature. (3.) This interpretation is demanded by the context. Our Lord is assigning the reason for the necessity of regeneration or spiritual birth. That reason is, the derivation of a corrupt nature by our natural birth. It is because we are born in sin that the renewing of the Holy Ghost is universally and absolutely necessary to our salvation.
Another passage equally decisive is Eph. ii. 3: “We also” (i.e., we Jews as well as the Gentiles) “were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.” Children of wrath, according to a familiar Hebrew idiom, means the objects of wrath. We, says the Apostle, as well as other men, are the objects of the divine wrath. That is, under condemnation, justly exposed to his displeasure. This exposure to the wrath of God, as He teaches, is not due exclusively to our sinful conduct, it is the condition in which we were born. We are by nature the children of wrath. The word nature in such forms of speech always stands opposed to what is acquired, or superinduced, or to what is due to ab extra influence or inward development. Paul says that he and Peter were by nature Jews, i.e., they were Jews by birth, not by proselytism. He says the Gentiles do by nature the things of the law; i.e., in virtue of their internal constitution, not by external instruction. The gods of the heathen, he says, are by nature no gods. They are such only in the opinions of men. In classic literature as in ordinary language, to say that men are by nature proud, or cruel, or just, always means that the predicate is due to them in virtue of their natural constitution or condition, and not simply on account of their conduct or acquired character. The dative φύσει in this passage does not mean on account of, because φύσις means simply nature, whether good or bad. Paul does not say directly that it is “on account of our (corrupt) nature we are the children of wrath,” which interpretation requires the idea expressed by the word corrupt to be introduced into the text. He simply asserts that we are the children of wrath by nature; that is, as we were born. We are born in a state of sin and condemnation. And this is the Church doctrine of original sin. Our natural condition is not merely a condition of physical weakness, or of proneness to sin, or of subjection to evil dispositions, which, if cherished, become sinful; but we are born in a state of sin. Rueckert, a rationalistic commentator, says in reference to this passage:241241Der Brief Pauli an die Epheser. Leipzig, 1834, p. 88. “It is perfectly evident, from Rom. v. 12-20, that Paul was far from being opposed to the 244view expressed in Ps. li. 7, that men are born sinners; and as we interpret for no system, so we will not attempt to deny that the thought, ‘We were born children of wrath,’ i.e.. such as we were from our birth we were exposed to the divine wrath, is the true sense of these words.”
The Bible Represents Men as Spiritually Dead.
Another way in which the Scriptures clearly teach the doctrine of original sin is to be found in the passages in which they describe the natural state of man since the fall. Men, all men, men of every nation, of every age, and of every condition, are represented as spiritually dead. The natural man, man as he is by nature, is destitute of the life of God, i.e., of spiritual life. His understanding is darkness, so that he does not know or receive the things of God. He is not susceptible of impression from the realities of the spiritual world. He is as insensible to them as a dead man to the things of this world. He is alienated from God, and utterly unable to deliver himself from this state of corruption and misery. Those, and those only, are represented as delivered from this state in which men are born, who are renewed by the Holy Ghost; who are quickened, or made alive by the power of God, and who are therefore called spiritual as governed and actuated by a higher principle than any which belongs to our fallen nature. “The natural man,” says the Apostle (that is, man as he is by nature), “receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them; because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Cor. ii. 14.) “You hath he quickened who were dead in trespasses and sins;” and not only you Gentiles, but “even us,” when dead in sins, hath God “quickened together with Christ.” (Eph. ii. 1, 5.) The state of all men, Jews and Gentiles, prior to regeneration, is declared to be a state of spiritual death. In Eph. iv. 17, 18, this natural state of man is described by saying of the heathen that they “walk in the vanity of their mind (i.e., in sin), having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart.” Man’s natural state is one of darkness, of which the proximate effect is ignorance and obduracy, and consequent alienation from God. It is true this is said of the heathen, but the Apostle constantly teaches that what is true of the heathen is no less true of the Jews; for there is no difference, since all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. With these few passages the whole tenour of the word of God agrees. 245Human nature in its present state is always and everywhere described as thus darkened and corrupted.
Argument from the Necessity of Redemption.
Another argument in support of the doctrine of original sin is that the Bible everywhere teaches that all men need redemption through the blood of Christ. The Scriptures know nothing of the salvation of any of the human family otherwise than through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus. This is so plainly the doctrine of the Bible that it never has been questioned in the Christian Church. Infants need redemption as well as adults, for they also are included in the covenant of grace. But redemption, in the Christian sense of the term, is deliverance through the blood of Christ, from the power and consequences of sin. Christ came to save sinners. He saves none but sinners. If He saves infants, infants must be in a state of sin. There is no possibility of avoiding this conclusion, except by denying one or the other of the premises from which it is drawn. We must either deny that infants are saved through Christ, which is such a thoroughly anti-Christian sentiment, that it has scarcely ever been avowed within the pale of the Church; or we must deny that redemption, in the Christian sense of the term, includes deliverance from sin. This is the ground taken by those who deny the doctrine of original sin, and yet admit that infants are saved through Christ. They hold that in their case redemption is merely preservation from sin. For Christ’s sake, or through his intervention, they are transferred to a state of being in which their nature develops in holiness. In answer to this evasion it is enough to remark, (1.) That it is contrary to the plain and universally received doctrine of the Bible as to the nature of the work of Christ. (2.) That this view supersedes the necessity of redemption at all. The Bible, however, clearly teaches that the death of Christ is absolutely necessary; that if there had been any other way in which men could be saved Christ is dead in vain. (Gal. ii. 21; iii. 21.) But, according to the doctrine in question, there is no necessity for his death. If men are an unfallen, uncorrupted race, and if they can be preserved from sin by a mere change of their circumstances, why should there be the costly array of remedial means, the incarnation, the sufferings and death of the Eternal Son of God, for their salvation. It is perfectly plain that the whole Scriptural plan of redemption is founded in the apostasy of the whole human race from God. It assumed that men, all men, infants as well as adults, are in a state of sin 246and misery, from which none but a divine Saviour can deliver them.
Argument from the Necessity of Regeneration.
This is still further plain from what the Scriptures teach concerning the necessity of regeneration. By regeneration is meant both in Scripture and in the language of the Church, the renewing of the Holy Ghost; the change of heart or of nature effected by the power of the Spirit, by which the soul passes from a state of spiritual death into a state of spiritual life. It is that change from sin to holiness, which our Lord pronounces absolutely essential to salvation. Sinners only need regeneration. Infants need regeneration. Therefore infants are in a state of sin. The only point in this argument which requires to be proved, is that infants need regeneration in the sense above explained. This, however, hardly admits of doubt. (1.) It is proved by the language of the Scriptures which assert that all men must be born of the Spirit, in order to enter the Kingdom of God. The expression used, is absolutely universal. It means every human being descended from Adam by ordinary generation. No exception of class, tribe, character, or age is made; and we are not authorized to make any such exception. But besides, as remarked above, the reason assigned for this necessity of the new birth, applies to infants as well as to adults. All who are born of the flesh, and because they are thus born, our Lord says, must be born again (2.) Infants always have been included with their parents in every revelation or enactment of the covenant of grace. The promise to our first parents of a Redeemer, concerned their children as well as themselves. The covenant with Abraham was not only with him, but also with his posterity, infant and adult. The covenant at Mount Sinai, which as Paul teaches, included the covenant of grace, was solemnly ratified with the people and with their “little ones.” The Scriptures, therefore, always contemplate children from their birth as needing to be saved, and as interested in the plan of salvation which it is the great design of the Bible to reveal. (3.) This is still further evident from the fact that the sign and seal of the covenant of grace, circumcision under the Old dispensation, and baptism under the New, was applied to new-born infants. Circumcision was indeed a sign and seal of the national covenant between God and the Hebrews as a nation. That is, it was a seal of those promises made to Abraham, and afterwards through Moses, which related to the external theocracy or Commonwealth of Israel. But nevertheless, 247it is plain, that besides these national promises, there was also the promise of redemption made to Abraham, which promise, the Apostle expressly says, has come upon us. (Gal. iii. 14) That is, we (all believers) are included in the covenant made with Abraham. It is no less plain that circumcision was the sign and seal of that covenant. This is clear, because the Apostle teaches that Abraham received circumcision as a seal of the righteousness of faith. That is, it was the seal of that covenant which promised and secured righteousness on the condition of faith. It is also plain because the Scriptures teach that circumcision had a spiritual import. It signified inward purification. It was administered in order to teach men that those who received the rite, needed such purification, and that this great blessing was promised to those faithful to the covenant, of which circumcision was the seal. Hence, the Scriptures speak of the circumcision of the heart; of an inward circumcision effected by the Spirit as distinguished from that which was outward in the flesh. Compare Deut. x. 16; xxx. 6; Ezek. xliv. 7; Acts vii. 51; Rom. ii. 28. From all this it is clear that circumcision could not be administered according to its divinely constituted design to any who did not need the circumcision or regeneration of heart, to fit them for the presence and service of God. And as it was by divine command administered to infants when eight days old, the conclusion is inevitable that in the sight of God such infants need regeneration, and therefore are born in sin.
The same argument obviously applies to infant baptism. Baptism is an ordinance instituted by Christ, to signify and seal the purification of the soul, by the sprinkling of his blood, and its regeneration by the Holy Ghost. It can therefore be properly administered only to those who are in a state of guilt and pollution. It is, however, administered to infants, and therefore infants are assumed to need pardon and sanctification. This is the argument which Pelagius and his followers, more than all others, found it most difficult to answer. They could not deny the import of the rite. They could not deny that it was properly administered to infants, and yet they refused to admit the unavoidable conclusion, that infants are born in sin. They were therefore driven to the unnatural evasion, that baptism was administered to infants, not on the ground of their present state, but on the assumption of their probable future condition. They were not sinners, but would probably become such, and thus need the benefits of which baptism is the sign and pledge. Even the Council of Trent found it necessary 248to protest against such a manifest perversion of a solemn sacrament, which reduced it to a mockery. The form of baptism as prescribed by Christ, and universally adopted by the Church, supposes that those to whom the sacrament is administered are sinners and need the remission of sin and the renewal of the Holy Ghost. Thus the doctrine of original sin is inwrought into the very texture of Christianity, and lies at the foundation of the institutions of the gospel.
Argument from the Universality of Death.
Another decisive argument on this subject, is drawn from the universality of death. Death, according to the Scriptures, is a penal evil. It presupposes sin. No rational moral creature is subject to death except on account of sin. Infants die, therefore infants are the subjects of sin. The only way to evade this argument is to deny that death is a penal evil. This is the ground taken by those who reject the doctrine of original sin. They assert that it is a natural evil, flowing from the original constitution of our nature, and that it is therefore no more a proof that all men are sinners, than the death of brutes is a proof that they are sinners. In answer to this objection, it is obvious to remark that men are not brutes. That irrational animals, incapable of sin, are subject to death, is therefore no evidence that moral creatures may be justly subject to the same evil, although free from sin. But, in the second place, what is of far more weight, the objection is in direct opposition to the declarations of the Word of God. According to the Bible, death in the case of man is a punishment. It was threatened against Adam as the penalty of transgression. If he had not sinned, neither had he died. The Apostle expressly declares that death is the wages (or punishment) of sin; and death is on account of sin. (Rom. vi. 23 and v. 12.) He not only asserts this as a fact, but assumes it as a principle, and makes it the foundation of his whole argument in Rom. v. 12-20. His doctrine as there stated is, where there is no law there is no sin. And where there is no sin there is no punishment. All men are punished, therefore all men are sinners. That all men are punished, he proves from the fact that all men die. Death is punishment. Death, he says, reigned from Adam to Moses. It reigns even over those who had not sinned in their own persons, by voluntary transgression, as Adam did. It reigns over infants. It has passed absolutely on all men because all are sinners. It cannot be questioned that such is the argument of the Apostle; neither can it be 249questioned that this argument is founded on the assumption that death, in the case of man, is a penal evil, and its infliction an undeniable proof of guilt. We must, therefore, either reject the authority of the Scriptures, or we must admit that the death of infants is a proof of their sinfulness.
Although the Apostle’s argument as above stated is a direct proof of original sin (or inherent, hereditary corruption), it is no less a proof, as urged on another occasion, of the imputation of Adam’s sin. Paul does argue, in Rom. v. 12-20, to prove that as in our justification the righteousness on the ground of which we are accepted is not subjectively ours, but the righteousness of another, even Christ; so the primary ground of our condemnation to death is the sin of Adam, something outside of ourselves, and not personally ours. But it is to be borne in mind that the death of which he speaks in accordance with the uniform usage of Scripture, in such connections, is the death of a man; a death appropriate to his nature as a moral being formed in the image of God. The death threatened to Adam was not the mere dissolution of his body, but spiritual death, the loss of the life of God. The physical death of infants is a patent proof that they are subject to the penalty which came on men (which entered the world and passed on all men) on account of one man, or by one man’s disobedience. And as that penalty was death spiritual as well as the dissolution of the body, the death of infants is a Scriptural and decisive proof of their being born destitute of original righteousness and infected with a sinful corruption of nature. Their physical death is proof that they are involved in the penalty the principal element of which is the spiritual death of the soul. It was by the disobedience of one man that all are constituted sinners, not only by imputation (which is true and most important), but also by inherent depravity; as it is by the obedience of one that all are constituted righteous, not only by imputation (which also is true and vitally important), but also by the consequent renewing of their nature flowing from their reconciliation to God.
Argument from the Common Consent of Christians.
Finally, it is fair, on this subject, to appeal to the faith of the Church universal. Protestants, in rejecting the doctrine of tradition, and in asserting that the Word of God as contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments is the only infallible rule of faith and practice, do not reject the authority of the Church as a teacher. They do not isolate themselves from the great company 250of the faithful in all ages, and set up a new faith. They hold that Christ promised the Holy Spirit to lead his people into the knowledge of the truth; that the Spirit does dwell as a teacher in all the children of God, and that those who are born of God are thus led to the knowledge and belief of the truth. There is therefore to the true Church, or the true people of God, but one faith, as there is but one Lord and one God the Father of all. Any doctrine, therefore, which can be proved to be a part of the faith (not of the external and visible Church, but) of the true children of God in all ages of the world, must be true. It is to be received not because it is thus universally believed, but because its being universally believed by true Christians is a proof that it is taught by the Spirit both in his Word and in the hearts of his people. This is a sound principle recognized by all Protestants. This universal faith of the Church is not to be sought so much in the decisions of ecclesiastical councils, as in the formulas of devotion which have prevailed among the people. It is, as often remarked, in the players, in the hymnology, in the devotional writings which true believers make the channel of their communion with God, and the medium through which they express their most intimate religious convictions, that we must look for the universal faith. From the faith of God’s people no man can separate himself without forfeiting the communion of saints, and placing himself outside of the pale of true believers. If these things be admitted we must admit the doctrine of original sin. That doctrine has indeed been variously explained, and in many cases explained away by theologians and by councils, but it is indelibly impressed on the faith of the true Church. It pervades the prayers, the worship, and the institutions of the Church. All true Christians are convinced of sin; they are convinced not only of individual transgressions, but also of the depravity of their heart and nature. They recognize this depravity as innate and controlling. They groan under it as a grievous burden. They know that they are by nature the children of wrath. Parents bring their children to Christ to be washed by his blood and renewed by his Spirit, as anxiously as mothers crowded around our Lord when on earth, with their suffering infants that they might be healed by his grace and power. Whatever difficulties, therefore, may attend the doctrine of original sin, we must accept it as clearly taught in the Scriptures, confirmed by the testimony of consciousness and history, and sustained by the faith of the Church universal.251
The objections to this doctrine, it must be admitted, are many and serious. But this is true of all the great doctrines of religion, whether natural or revealed. Nor are such difficulties confined to the sphere of religion. Our knowledge in every department is limited, and in a great measure confined to isolated facts. We know that a stone falls to the ground, that a seed germinates and produces a plant after its own kind; but it is absolutely impossible for us to understand how these familiar effects are accomplished. We know that God is, and that He governs all his creatures, but we do not know how his effectual controlling agency is consistent with the free agency of rational beings. We know that sin and misery exist in the world, and we know that God is infinite in power, holiness, and benevolence. How to reconcile the prevalence of sin with the character of God we know not. These are familiar and universally admitted facts as well in philosophy as in religion. A thing may be, and often certainly is true, against which objections may be urged which no man is able to answer. There are two important practical principles which follow from the facts just mentioned. First, that it is not a sufficient or a rational ground for rejecting any well authenticated truth that we are not able to free it from objections or difficulties. And, secondly, any objection against a religious doctrine is to be regarded as sufficiently answered if it can be shown to bear with equal force against an undeniable fact. If the objection is not a rational reason for denying the fact it is not a rational reason for rejecting the doctrine. This is the method which the sacred writers adopt in vindicating truth.
It will be seen that almost all the objections against the doctrine of original sin are in conflict with one or the other of the principles just mentioned. Either they are addressed not to the evidences of the truth of the doctrine whether derived from Scripture or from experience, but to the difficulty of reconciling it with other truths; or these objections are insisted upon as fatal to the doctrine when they obviously are as valid against the facts of providence as they are against the teachings of Scripture.
The Objection that Men are Responsible only for their Voluntary Acts.
1. The most obvious objection to the doctrine of original sin is rounded on the assumption that nothing can have moral character except voluntary acts and the states of mind resulting from or produced 252by our voluntary agency, and which are subject to the power of the will. This objection rests on a principle which has already been considered. It reaches very far. If it be sound, then there can be no such thing as concreated holiness, or habitual grace, or innate, inherent, or indwelling sin. But we have already seen, when treating of the nature of sin, that according to the Scriptures, the testimony of consciousness, and the universal judgment of men) the moral character of dispositions depends on their nature and not on their origin. Adam was holy, although so created. Saints are holy, although regenerated and sanctified by the almighty power of God. And therefore the soul is truly sinful if the subject of sinful dispositions, although those dispositions should be innate and entirely beyond the control of the will. Here it will be seen that the objection is not against the Scriptural evidence of the doctrine that men are born in sin, nor against the testimony of facts to the truth of that doctrine; but it is founded on the difficulty of reconciling the doctrine of innate sin with certain assumed principles as to the nature and grounds of moral obligation. Whether we can refute those principles or not, does not affect the truth of the doctrine. We might as well deny all prophecy and all providence, because we cannot reconcile the absolute control of free agents with their liberty. If the assumed moral axiom that a man can be responsible only for his own acts, conflicts with the facts of experience and the teachings of Scriptures, the rational course is to deny the pretended axiom, and not to reject the facts with which it is in conflict. The Bible, the Church, the mass of mankind, and the conscience, hold a man responsible for his character, no matter how that character was formed or whence it was derived; and, therefore, the doctrine of original sin is not in conflict with intuitive moral truths.
Objection Founded on the Justice of God.
2. It is objected that it is inconsistent with the justice of God that men should come into the world in a state of sin. In answer to this objection it may be remarked, (1.) That whatever God does must be right. If He permits men to be born in sin, that fact must be consistent with his divine perfection. (2.) It is a fact of experience no less than a doctrine of Scripture that men are either, as the Church teaches, born in a state of sin and condemnation, or, as all men must admit, in a state which inevitably leads to their becoming sinful and miserable. The objection, therefore, bears against a providential fact as much as against a Scriptural doctrine. We must either deny God or admit that the existence and universality 253of sin among men is compatible with his nature and with his government of the world. (3.) The Bible, as often before remarked, accounts for and vindicates the corruption of our race on the ground that mankind had a full and fair probation in Adam, and that the spiritual death in which they are born is part of the judicial penalty of his transgression. If we reject this solution of the fact, we cannot deny the fact itself, and, being a fact, it must be consistent with the character of God.
The Doctrine represents God as the Author of Sin.
3. A third objection often and confidently urged is, that the Church doctrine on this subject makes God the author of sin. God is the author of our nature, If our nature be sinful, God must be the author of sin. The obvious fallacy of this syllogism is, that the word nature is used in one sense in the major proposition, and in a different sense in the minor. In the one it means substance or essence; in the other, natural disposition. It is true that God is the author of our essence. But our essence is not sinful. God is indeed our Creator. He made us, and not we ourselves. We are the work of his hands. He is the Father of the spirits of all men. But He is not the author of the evil dispositions with which that nature is infected at birth. The doctrine of original sin attributes no efficiency to God in the production of evil. It simply supposes that He judicially abandons our apostate race, and withholds from the descendants of Adam the manifestations of his favour and love, which are the life of the soul. That the inevitable consequence of this judicial abandonment is spiritual death, no more makes God the author of sin, than the immorality and desperate and unchanging wickedness of the reprobate, from whom God withholds his Spirit, are to be referred to the infinitely Holy One as their author. It is moreover a historical fact universally admitted, that character, within certain limits, is transmissible from parents to children. Every nation, separate tribe, and even every extended family of men, has its physical, mental, social, and moral peculiarities which are propagated from generation to generation. No process of discipline or culture can transmute a Tartar into an Englishman, or an Irishman into a Frenchman. The Bourbons, the Hapsburgs, and other historical families, have retained and transmitted their peculiarities for ages. We may be unable to explain thus, but we cannot deny it. No one is born an absolute man, with nothing but generic humanity belonging to him. Everyone is born a man in a definite state, with all those characteristics physical, 254mental, and moral, which make up his individuality. There is nothing therefore in the doctrine of hereditary depravity out of analogy with providential facts.
It is said to destroy the Free Agency of Men.
4. It is further objected to this doctrine that it destroys the free agency of man. If we are born with a corrupt nature by which we are inevitably determined to sinful acts, we cease to be free in performing those acts, and consequently are not responsible for them. This objection is founded on a particular theory of liberty, and must stand or fall with it. The same objection is urged against the doctrines of decrees, of efficacious grace, of the perseverance of the saints, and all other doctrines which assume that a free act can be absolutely certain as to its occurrence. It is enough here to remark that the doctrine of original sin supposes men to have the same kind and degree of liberty in sinning under the influence of a corrupt nature, that saints and angels have in acting rightly under the influence of a holy nature. To act according to its nature is the only liberty which belongs to any created being.
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