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DOCTRINE OF SIN AS CONTAINED IN THE GOSPELS.
IN passing to the Christian revelation and the doctrine of sin laid down in the New Testament Scriptures, we carry with us the same moral atmosphere as in the Old Testament. We are everywhere in the same region of divine law and of personal responsibility. Whatever Christianity may be more than Mosaism and Judaism, it embraces at least all the moral truth which they contained. The spiritual consciousness of righteousness, and of sin as its violation, which has accumulated in the long education of the chosen people, is passed over in its full import to the Christian Church, which, in spiritual experience and organic development, is the direct descendant of the Jewish Church. Much besides enters from the first into Christianity,—a new power of life from above—a new creative force; but it loses nothing of the moral experience which has been growing for ages in the Jewish race. It takes 99this all up, appropriates, enlarges, and purifies it. In this respect conspicuously Christ came not “to destroy, but to fulfil.” Upon this inherited experience of divine law, moral motive, and personal responsibility to a higher will, He took His stand and began His work as a Teacher and a Saviour.
It is this organic connection betwixt the Old and the New Testament, and the moral truths which underlie both and make so much of their substance, which compels the theologian to deal with both spheres of Revelation, and seek for the elucidation of Christian truth not only in the pages of the New Testament, but in the pre-Christian pages of the Old. All who ignore this connection will be found to misconceive one or other of these spheres, and to mistake the unity of the divine plan for the education of our race. The connection will be found to hold more or less in reference to all Christian doctrines, even those which seem at first most removed from the Hebrew consciousness; but in the case of the doctrine with which we are dealing, it holds in a special manner. The Christian doctrine of sin is at least all the doctrine which we have found in the Old Testament. It may contain—it does, as we shall find, contain—more than we have drawn from the latter. There is new and further and higher light thrown upon man’s moral condition by the teaching of our Lord and of His apostles. But what we 100have already reached is also found in their teaching, and forms everywhere its basis, asserted or implied; and hence the necessity of our dwelling, as we did in a separate Lecture, on the Old Testament view of sin. In doing so, we were dealing not merely with necessary preliminary matter, but we had already entered within that continuous line of thought and experience which issues in the full Christian doctrine, and forms such an essential part of it that without it the Christian doctrine cannot be fully comprehended.
In the exposition of the fully-developed doctrine of the New Testament Scriptures, there are at least two main aspects in which we must consider it—viz., first, as presented in our Lord’s teaching, as given in the Gospels; and second, as elaborately set forth and explained in the Epistles of St. Paul. I am quite aware that this is an inadequate division or classification of the New Testament writings for general dogmatic purposes. The type of doctrine presented in the fourth Gospel is so separable from that presented in the synoptics,—and the writings of St. John—the Gospels and the Epistles, I mean—stand so obviously by themselves in a more advanced line of thought than all the other writings of the Christian Scriptures,—that their dogmatic meaning demands almost always separate treatment. There may be said to be at least the three following 101types of thought in the New Testament: (1) The Judæo-Christian, represented by the first two synoptics, the Epistle of James, and, less definitely, the Epistles of St. Peter and Jude; (2) the Pauline, represented, in addition to the Epistles of the great apostle, by the Gospel of St. Luke and the Acts of the Apostles; and (3) the Johannean, represented by the fourth Gospel and the three Epistles of St. John. There are few dogmas of the Christian system upon which this last group, or the writings of St. John, have not a distinctive bearing, or a bearing so special as to demand special notice. But as regards the present subject, this cannot be said to be the case, for the simple reason that the experience of sin was a common inheritance in all the sections of the infant Church. It was nothing new—something, indeed, very old—which they knew as Jews, no less than as Christians. There was nothing, therefore, to make the sin-consciousness different in the different apostles, or to make their mode of representing our Lord’s teaching regarding it marked by more than casual diversity. Upon the whole, it is essentially the same picture in this respect that we have in all the four Gospels. There may be distinctions to be noticed, but these distinctions do not affect the substance of the representation. We are warranted, therefore, in taking together all that the Gospels have to say regarding sin; or in viewing 102our Lord’s teaching on this subject in all the four as one complete picture. The doctrine of St. Paul deserves separate treatment, not as being different from that of the Gospels, but as being so expanded and elaborate that it can only be handled adequately by itself. The great apostle, in consistency with his deeper experience and more varied culture, dwells specially, and at length, upon the subject, and in a critical and explanatory manner quite different from that of the Gospels. He enters not only into an analysis of the fact, but into what may be called its philosophy, and so sets forth a comprehensive doctrine, which has powerfully moulded the thought of the Church in all subsequent ages. Our remaining Lectures will be fully occupied in the consideration of this doctrine.
In approaching the present aspect of our subject, we are met at the outset not only with the accumulated moral experience derived from the Old Testament, but, moreover, with a new or at least more clearly developed background of evil. In the Old Testament, evil appears mainly as an inward or subjective conception. The primal sin, although prompted by evil influence from without, is conspicuously inward and moral; everywhere it is the thoughts of men’s hearts or the motions of their will, that are evil and obnoxious to God. It is strange how little is seen of any evil Power outside 103the human will, or any background of a kingdom of evil moving men from without. The connection of Satan, or the evil Power, with the serpent in the Garden of Eden, is an inference of later dogmatic opinion, arising naturally out of the circumstances and the expressions which are afterwards used in the New Testament regarding “that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan;”7575 Rev. xx. 2. but not only is there no mention of Satan in the narrative of the Fall, but the name does not occur in all the Pentateuch, or any of the earlier Hebrew Scriptures. The expression is, at the most, only used as a proper name five times in the Old Testament—viz., in the opening of the twenty-first chapter of the First Book of Chronicles;7676 “And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel.” The expression is here used without the article, and may be translated, as elsewhere, simply as “adversary.” in three well-known places in Job,7777 Job, i. 6, 12; ii. 1. and in the prophecy of Zechariah, in the opening of the third chapter, where Joshua the high priest is represented as “standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him.” In all the other places in which the word occurs, it is used in its simple meaning of “adversary,” a sense in which it is also used in the Gospels.7878 Matt. xvi. 23, where our Lord addresses St. Peter, “Get thee behind me, Satan,” or adversary.
Even the most expressive of these Old Testament 104passages gives us no definite idea of a spiritual Power of evil outside of man, and subjecting man to his control. In the prologue of the Book of Job, Satan is represented, with sufficient clearness, as a distinct being or personal existence. But the picture of his character and of his employment is neither imposing nor spiritual. He is not a grand or impressive figure. He comes among the “sons of God” to present himself before the Lord. He is the image of restlessness, of malice, and of envy—the willing envoy of inflicting mischief upon Job; but he has no semblance of the “Archangel ruined,” nor does he assail the patriarch with spiritual weapons. No power of spiritual injury is ascribed to him. He is a delegated Agent in the hands of God, sent forth by Him to execute His purposes; and the power which he exercises is only a power over outward circumstances.
So soon as we come within the sphere of New Testament Revelation, a very different picture is presented to us. From the first there is here depicted a clear and powerful background of evil—a kingdom of evil spirits or “demons,” with a prince or ruler at their head, designated by various names, as “the Devil,” “the Tempter,”7979 Matt. iv. 1, 5, 8, 11; xiii. 39: “Tempter,” Matt. iv. 3; Luke iv. 2, 3, 5, 6, 13; John viii. 44. “Satan,”8080 Matt. iv. 10; xii. 26; Mark i. 13; iii. 23, 26; iv. I5; Luke, iv. 8. “Beelzebub,”8181 Matt. xii. 24; Mark iii. 22. 105“the Prince of Devils,”8282 Matt. xii. 24. “the Strong One,”8383 Matt. xii. 29. “the Wicked One,”8484 Matt. xiii. 38. “the Enemy,” or “the Hostile One.”8585 Matt. xiii. 39. The first three epithets are all used in what may be called the primitive account of our Lord’s temptation, in the fourth chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel; and throughout the Gospels the words “Satan,” “the Devil,” “the Wicked One,” “Beelzebub,” “the Prince of Devils” (or, as the translation ought to have been here, as elsewhere, “Demons”), are used interchangeably. There can be no question, therefore, of the recognition in the Gospels of an active Power or Principle of evil outside of man, and exercising influence over him. It may be said that our Lord nowhere makes known the existence of such an evil Power as a point of doctrine. He assumes the current belief among the Jews of His time, rather than sets forth any new doctrine on the subject. This is true. But it is equally true that He clearly assumes the reality of such a Power; and both in His intercourse with His disciples and in His arguments with His opponents, uses language the natural meaning of which places the reality of a kingdom of evil beyond dispute.
With any further questions pertaining to the character of this kingdom, the personality of its head and subordinate members, their origin, their 106agency, and mode of influence, we are not now concerned. These questions do not enter essentially into the consideration of our subject. It was necessary to bring so much into view, if for no other purpose than to show the somewhat different atmosphere as to the general question of evil which meets us in the New Testament. What at the utmost can only-be considered suggestions in the Old Testament, stand forth as clear intimations in the Christian Revelation. Evil is here before us from the first, and prominently, not merely as a characteristic of humanity and the moral atmosphere in which humanity moves, but as a supernatural element of affecting the world and man from the outside. Temptation is no longer merely a reality, addressing man’s sense or soliciting man’s will—that lies in its nature always—but it is a living Power, the representative of a kingdom hostile to the Divine, and hostile to man as the offspring of the Divine. All this may be equally true from the beginning, and may, as our dogmatic systems suppose, be the only adequate explanation of the primary sin and fall of man. But the fact is not made clear in the Old Testament by itself—is not made to fix our attention as in the New. Here only it is we meet in full the idea of a Power of evil fronting the Divine in implacable hostility, and encompassing man as his everactive enemy and tempter.107
It is important, at the same time, to notice how the idea of such a Power in the New Testament, however it may be designated or described, is discriminated from the evil Principle of the Persian religion to which we formerly adverted, and with which it has by certain writers been confounded, or at least brought into comparison. Some have not hesitated to trace the origin of the New Testament conception to the intercourse of the Jews with the Persians, and the influence naturally exercised upon them by Persian modes of thought. It is difficult to say whether the Jewish mind did not receive some impulse towards the whole subject of Angelology, and especially the existence of evil spirits, from their Persian neighbours, or the general stream of thought regarding the Supernatural which was filtrating from this quarter into the religious mind of the time. As with other curious questions lying alongside of our subject, we do not venture to enter upon this, and the less reluctantly that nothing definite or satisfactory can be said regarding it. This, however, is plainly evident, that the Jewish conception of Satan is greatly distinguished from the Zoroastrian conception of Ahriman (Anra-Mainyus). The latter is a twin spirit with Ormuzd (Ahura-Mazda), the good Power—apparently coequal, and no less concerned than the good in the production of the world. The warfare of the 108two is a warfare as of balanced forces. The world and human nature are conceived as arising out of their joint action or conflict. On the contrary, Satan is represented everywhere in the New Testament as indeed the enemy of God, yet subordinate and inferior to Him. His power is a real power; it is a power of dread and danger, capable of assailing Jesus himself, “the Holy One and the Just:” yet it is always limited and subordinate to a higher divine purpose.8686 Matt. iv. 1; Rev. xii. 12, xv. 2. Above all, it has no control of man, save through his own yielding. Evil, in short, even as impersonated in Satan, can only get near to man along the line of his own will. The Evil has no creative or original share in him. Satan is not, like Anra-Mainyus, concerned in his being from the first: and no part of his being, material or spiritual, is essentially evil, or a necessary prey to evil influence. The idea of matter as in itself evil, or the hopeless sphere of evil, underlies not only the Persian mythology, but all the numerous modes of thought so rife in the first ages of the Church, which have more or less affinity to it. There is not a trace of this in the Gospels. The Powers of evil, with Satan at their head, are everywhere conceived as moral Powers-Powers lying outside of the material cosmos, and while working through it, in no sense embedded within it or identified with it. The essential 109morality of the evangelical conception separates it, therefore, entirely from the Persian, and places it on a higher level.
This point is all the more significant, that the Persian conception of matter as hopelessly corrupt, and itself the evil, had beyond doubt extended itself in the time of our Lord, within the sphere of Judaism, and formed a characteristic tenet of one of its three prominent sects. The Essenes were not only ascetics, separated from both Pharisees and Sadducees by certain practical observances regarding food and marriage, and other social restrictions, but, as recent investigation has clearly shown,8787 See quotation in Appendix XIII. from Dr. Lightfoot’s interesting chapter on this subject in his recent Commentary on the Colossians. were also Gnostics, animated in their ascetical rigidities by the speculative principle of the abhorrence of matter as the abode of evil. This idea, therefore, like many others, was in the intellectual atmosphere of the time; and if certain modern views of the origin of Christianity were true, it would almost certainly have been found in the Gospels. Yet, as we have said, there is not a trace of it there. The taint of Nature-religion is entirely absent, even where the thought of the Gospels comes directly into contact with the thought of the age, circulating from Aryan no less than Semitic, sources. It does not cling even to the skirts of the evangelical doctrine. The conception 110of Satan, like every other element of revealed religion, is a moral and not a natural conception, having all its true life and influence within the higher sphere.
And this also it is which renders it unnecessary that we should dwell further upon the background of evil brought out so prominently in the Gospels and throughout the New Testament Scriptures. Whatever conclusions we may form as to its character and influence, cannot affect the special truths which sum up the Christian doctrine of sin. Whatever be the Power or Powers of evil outside of man recognised in the New Testament, sin remains in its contents essentially the same. The hidden Powers of evil supposed to encompass man can only assail him from within. Their influence is spiritual, and is only operative within the free spiritual life which belongs to every man. This is the constant representation of the New Testament. There is no element of necessity or constraint in the picture of diabolic influence; or, if there is, by the very same fact, the idea of sin disappears, and that of mere misfortune or calamity emerges. In short, whatever be its accidents, sin is seen as clearly as ever—and, indeed, more clearly than ever—to be rooted in the personal will of man—the product of his own self-determining agency. It appears, if not more plainly, yet more fully, as 111the wilful transgression of law which is divine, not merely by imposition, but by intuition. God Himself is brought more close to the individual conscience as Authority and Lawgiver, but also, and especially, as Father,—a living Spirit of Love, whose will is at once man’s law and man’s good.
1. In the representation of sin given by our Lord in the Gospels, the first point that claims attention is the manner in which He intensifies the Old Testament idea of it, as deviation from or transgression of law. The expressions used to describe sin are the direct equivalents in Greek of the Hebrew expressions noticed in last Lecture. The most general expression conveys the same idea of failure or missing a mark as the Hebrew expression chattath formerly discussed.8888 Ἁμαρτία, failure (its original etymology is uncertain), stands for sin in general in the New Testament, as חַטָאת in the Old Testament; and, associated with this general expression, there is a “mournfully numerous group” of words analogous to the Old Testament group formerly considered, and expressing more or less the same definite shades of meaning. It is unnecessary to add any critical discussion of these words beyond that given in the text. The three there mentioned—viz., ἁμαρτία, ἁνομία, παράπτωμα—are all used by our Lord,—the first, however, by far the most frequently. (Ἁμάρτημα is found in Mark, iii. 28, and doubtfully in Mark, iv. 12.) Ἀνομία is used with great significance in the First Epistle of St. John, iii. 4, in conjunction with ἁμαρτία: Πᾶς ὁ ποιῶν τὴν ἁμαρτίαν καὶ τὴν ἀνομίαν ποιεῖ· καὶ ἡ ἁμαρτία ἐστὶν ἡ ἀνομία—Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.” Παράπτωμα is often employed by St. Paul; Rom. v. 15, 16, 17, 18, 20; Eph. ii. 1; Gal. vi. 1. Expressions specially Pauline are παρακοή (“disobedience to a voice “), opposed to ὑπακοή (Rom. v. 19; 2 Cor. x. 6; Heb. ii. 2); παράβασις (“transgression “) very frequently (Rom. ii. 23, v. 14; 1 Tim. ii. 14; Heb. ii. 2—in conjunction with παρακοή, Heb. ix. 15). Readers anxious to study the several shades of meaning which have been associated with these words may be referred to Archbishop Trench’s volume on New Testament Synonyms, second part, p. 61, 73. It is evident, from the interesting discussion and quotation of authorities there given, that too much is not to be made of these shades of meaning, and that the full force of the evangelical and Pauline thought on the subject is better gathered by a comprehensive induction of the leading particulars of this thought, such as is attempted in the Lectures, than by any mere critical analysis of words. This is the expression used in the case 112of the “man sick of the palsy,” whom our Lord cures in the opening of His ministry: “Son, be of good cheer; thy sins8989 Ἁμαρτίαι—Matt. ix. 2, 5. be forgiven thee.” Again, in the well-known passage, “Wherefore I say unto you, Every sin9090 Πᾶσα ἁμαρτία, “all manner of sin”—Matt. xii. 31. and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men; but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men.” Again, very expressively, “Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin;”9191 Τὴν ἁμαρτίαν . . . τῆς ἁμαρτίας—John, viii. 34. and, “And when He is come, He will reprove the world of sin.”9292 Περὶ ἁμαρτίας—John, xvi. 8. The expression rendered by our translators “inquity,” and which more precisely means negation or violation of law, is also used in St. Matthew, both with and without the article—as, for example, in the following passages: “Depart from me, ye that work iniquity;” “They” (the angels) “shall gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and them 113which do iniquity.”9393 Matt. vii. 23, xiii. 41. The Pharisees are said to be “full of hypocrisy and iniquity.”9494 Matt. xxiii. 28, ἀνομῖα. In the first two passages quoted in the text, the expression occurs with the article, τὴν ἀνομίαν—in the third, it occurs without the article. The original of the familiar word trespasses,9595 Παράπτωμα. so associated with the Lord’s Prayer, deserves also to be mentioned in connection with the Gospels. The expression, however, does not occur in the Lord’s Prayer itself; either in St. Matthew or St. Luke, but in the significant verses immediately following the prayer in St. Matthew’s Gospel,9696 Matt. vi. 14, 15. and the corresponding passage in St. Mark.9797 Mark, xi. 25, 26. The expression used in the Lord’s Prayer in the first Gospel is peculiar, and marks a peculiar shade of meaning—viz., “debts;”9898 Ὀφειλήματα. the idea being that sins are chargeable against us as debts are, and that, if not forgiven, they must be paid in full. The language of the prayer as given in the Gospel of St. Luke, less frequently used than other forms of it, brings out the close connection betwixt sins designated by the ordinary expression and the idea of indebtedness: “And forgive us our sins, for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us.”9999 Luke, xi. 4, ἁμαρτίας . . . παντὶ ὀφείλοντι ἡμῖν·
Such is the general description of sin in the Gospels, answering nearly to what we have already found in 114the Old Testament. But a mere enumeration of words and their specific meanings gives but a poor account of the deeper meaning which our Lord’s teaching throws into the subject. It is only when we bring into view this higher conception of the standard or law which marks failure, deviation, or transgression, that we see how far more penetrating is His conception of sin, even as a breach of law.
The law was not to Him, as it had become to the ordinary Jewish mind of whatever school—a mere letter of commands or of prohibitions: “Honour thy father and thy mother;” “Thou shalt not kill;” “Thou shalt not commit adultery;” “Thou shalt not forswear thyself.” He did not disparage its literal meaning; but its true meaning was far deeper than the letter. The law was for Him a spiritual ideal, “quick and powerful,” like the word of God in the Epistle to the Hebrews,100100 Heb. iv. 12. “and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow,”—“a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” It is not enough that men keep within the letter, and in its sense do no violence or commit no impurity; but men are no less transgressors if they cherish angry feelings against a brother, or look on a woman to lust after her. The law, so far from being destroyed, is glorified and fulfilled 115in His teaching; and sin, or its violation, stands forth not merely as an, outward act, but as an inward thought or inclination.: The principle of law being thus spiritualised, the principle of its negation is equally spiritualised. The conditions of righteousness and purity binding our being are no mere external conditions, restraining the outward activities, but conditions of the soul—necessary and absolute forms of its life—within which its most secret movements, no less than its outward manifestations, must circulate. Whatever be the origin of our ideas of law and right—whether they come to us from without or within—our Lord does not meddle with such questions; they exist. They are summarily comprehended in the Ten Commandments. But not only so; the law is nigh to us—in our heart. It binds our inmost being no less than our external conduct. It extends absolutely over every sphere of our voluntary activity. The ancient words only mirror an ideal right that lives in every conscience not “dead in sin;” and sin begins not only when the letter of the law is broken, but when the ideal is obscured within and the heart has sunk deliberately below its own highest conception of right.
2. But not merely is the conception of law, and of sin as its violation, thus idealised and extended in our Lord’s teaching; the conception of God as the giver of the law, and hence of sin as personal disobedience 116against its Author, is at the same time more clearly brought out. The Divine is not only an external authority commanding us, but a living Will that claims our service. We are to keep the commandments, not merely because it is right for us to do so, because the law is a categorical imperative within us which will not let us do as we will, but, above all, because it is God Himself that is ruling us by His law. His is the voice which speaks in the ancient words, and in the response which our hearts make to the words. He is Himself the immediate object of all moral obligation. We are to obey Him, not merely because His commands lie upon us, but because He is the Author and Father of our being, in whom alone we live and move—whose we are, and to whom we owe all. And our sin is consequently not merely “transgression of law,” but disobedience against Him—rejection of His will.
This essential aspect of sin as involving offence against a living Will no less than deviation from a right rule, is abundantly present in the Old Testament, and especially in the prophetic writings and the Psalms. It was inseparably involved in the whole character of Hebraism as a theocracy—a system which clothed itself in the form of law, but of which God was everywhere the immediate centre. It was nothing new, therefore, to the Hebrew consciousness. This has been clearly 117seen already. A Jew could hardly ever, amidst all the traditions of Pharisaism, lose sight of the relation of his sin to God as well as to the law. But the experience is everywhere requickened in our Lord’s teaching; and all who heard Him were made to feel that their conduct had not merely a legal but a personal bearing. There was One ever with them, seeing them not only as their fellow-men saw them, but seeing them in secret;101101 Matt vi. 4, 6. knowing what they had need of before they asked Him,102102 Matt. vi. 8. their “Father in heaven;”—and all that they thought and did was judged by Him with unerring judgment. All their evil, therefore, was sin against Him., It was a rejection of His will as well as an offence against His authority. It was not only disorder, but undutifulness.
3. And this leads us to a higher element of our Lord’s teaching than we have yet reached. The law is not only idealised, and the conception of the divine personality everywhere made prominent, but there is a clearer, if not a wholly new, revelation made of the Divine. The Supreme Being is not merely moral order centred in a personal will, but moral perfection. The Right that rules our lives is at the same time the Love that guides them. God is our Father in heaven, all whose will towards us is good. This is one of the highest notes of spiritual advance in the Gospels—the clear identification of 118righteousness and goodness, of law and of love. These two ideas, so apt to be separated—so frequently, in point of fact, separated in popular religion—are everywhere identical in Christ, and in the higher spiritual sphere revealed by Him. The God of whom He speaks is not only supreme, but supremely good. “He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust.”103103 Matt. v. 45. “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask Him!”104104 Matt. vii. 11. The idea of goodness is specially the idea of God. And yet divine goodness is never represented as good-nature, or mere complacency. On the contrary, it is inseparably bound up with righteousness and truth. A love without justice would prove to be no love at all. A goodness without holiness would be a mere shadow, on which no true heart could rest. Love is the innermost principle of the Divine, but the Divine is always the Right. Goodness without morality is unintelligible in the spiritual sphere. Within this sphere they are not only inseparable, they are essentially coherent—twin aspects of the same spiritual perfection. Right is Love, however it may sometimes seem disguised in the face of wrong; and Love, on the other hand, embraces every essential principle of morality. 119Hence the Divine is all summed up in Love. It is the secret of moral order in heaven and on earth. It is the name for the highest, alike in God and in man—the complete expression for the law above us, and the complete expression for the law within us. “God is love.”105105 1 John, iv. 8. “Love is the fulfilling of the law.”106106 Rom. xiii. 10. When the Pharisees were gathered together, one of them, a lawyer, “asked Him a question, tempting Him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”107107 Matt. xii. 35-40. As love in God is the sum of moral perfection, love in us towards God and towards our neighbour is the sum of all moral duty.
This higher teaching of Christ reflects everywhere a deeper shadow on human sin. If divine righteousness be always divine goodness, and the law, even in its most restrictive aspects, be only a form of concealed love working for our good, the wilful violation of law and of right is at the same time enmity against the Good. This thought is frequently repeated in the Gospels. In the profound and beautiful parable of the prodigal son—which is 120throughout full of meaning for our subject—it is specially apparent. It is the deepest offence of the prodigal, not that he had yielded to the lawless impulses of self-indulgence—wasted his substance in riotous living, and broken the laws of temperance and purity—nor even that he has sinned against a parental authority which claimed his obedience; but that, as his own heart at length tells him, he has done despite to a father’s love, and offended against a goodness which was following him solicitously amid all his wilful degradation, and waiting all along to welcome his return.108108 Luke, xv. 11-32. Again, in the solemn passage109109 Matt. xii. 31, 32. about blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, where our Lord is contending with pathetic indignation against the darkness of Pharisaic unbelief, it is this thought that marks the depth of His pathos, and gives meaning to His awful warning: the Pharisees were offenders not merely against Himself but against the full lustre of goodness—the light of the Divine—the presence of the Holy Ghost seen in His works. There might have been excuses for their not apprehending or acknowledging Him as the Messiah on His own appeal; but His works spoke for themselves as works of divine healing and beneficence. The spirit of Goodness—of God—breathed in them, and yet they said they were the works of Beelzebub, the prince of devils. The light that was in them 121being darkness, how great was their darkness! The deepest element of their sin was this hatred of the good. This was their blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. All other sin may be forgiven; but a disposition which calls evil good, and good evil—darkness light, and light darkness—is unforgivable in its nature. It is hopeless—beyond the operation of divine grace. And so the darkness of sin deepens as the light of God falls upon it. The shadows are cast more gloomily into the abysses of human self-will and alienation from the Divine, as the ideal of Love rises more luminously in the spiritual heavens.
The same aspect of our Lord’s teaching serves to bring out more plainly the essential nature of sin. As love, or the going forth of the human will in harmony towards the Divine, is the highest expression of moral duty, so the opposite of all this, or the concentration of the will upon itself in opposition to the Divine, is the uttermost expression of sin. More than anything else, the essence of sin is to be found in concentrated self-will or perverted egoism. In such a case the will is not merely astray, or out of the right way. So far as any will may have thus deviated, there is always something of the nature of sin, but there also may be much of the nature of accident or misfortune. All wrong-doing is deviation, but all deviation may not proceed from a wrongful purpose. The mark may be missed, and the stumble 122made in the darkness of unconsciousness, under blind impulses for the moment irresistible. These cannot make wrong right, but they may infinitely excuse the wrong. The element of sin may barely exist in certain acts of deviation, so little relation may they have to the conscious personality of the agent. But where the will deliberately asserts itself in wrong,—choosing self-indulgence rather than self-control—self-interest even to a brother’s hurt,—then sin appears in its true character. It marks itself as the opposite of what is known as love—the latter representing the harmony of our personal life with the Divine, the former the concentration of this life upon itself in some form or another. As love is self-forgetfulness in God, sin is self-assertion against Him. Always there is this insurrectionary movement of self more or less present, whatever particular form the sin may take. It is not the form that is essential, but the inner movement of self expressed in it. Let the outside be stripped away, this core remains; and this it is, or the self-will in an attitude of hostile erection to the Divine, which is essentially sin. Hence, too, the positive or affirmative character which is so radical a note of sin. The true unity of the Divine and the human, of which love is the symbol, is dissolved; but a false unity takes its place. The Divine ceases to be the centre; self becomes its own centre. [See Appendix XIV.]123
There is this inward penetration everywhere in our Lord’s teaching, in the manner in which He deals with different classes of sinners, and the words with which He fixes attention, not on the outside but the inside of life. The Magdalene, and the Prodigal, and the Publican, are all sinners in His sight. They. have gone astray, and turned every one to his own way. Instead of the right they have chosen the wrong, and followed after vanity. Their sin, as all sin, is hateful to Him. He utters no word of leniency over it; yet he never speaks of it as he speaks of the sin of Pharisaic pride and Sadducean unbelief. The depth of impurity and profligacy does not move Him, like the depth of hypocrisy and hatred of the Good. There is alienation from the Divine in both cases; but the alienation is far more deliberate and self-concentrated in the one case than in the other. And while in the one He can say, “Go, and sin no more;” in the other He says, “Ye do the deeds of your father. . . . Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do.”110110 John viii. 11, 41, 44. He saw clearly to the heart, and discriminates the sin according to the degree of its evil in the self-will striving against the Divine. Similarly He speaks of all defilement as being from within, and not from without—a part of the self-life, and not of the accidental or external life. The external character should be without blame; but it is within 124the heart that the real character is formed. “Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man, but that which cometh out of the mouth, that defileth a man. . . . Those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart, and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false-witness, blasphemies.”111111 Matt. xv. 1, 18. 19. All these are but various forms of self-will turned away from the Divine, and falsely seeking to make a centre for itself. “These are the things which defile a man; but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man.”112112 Matt. xv. 20.
4. There is a special aspect of sin, afterwards elaborated by St. Paul, which also appears in our Lord’s teaching. He characterises it not merely in act and in essence, but as a condition and tendency of humanity. Man not only sins, but he is a sinner naturally. It is his nature and disposition to sin. “Every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.”113113 Matt. vii. 17. “The tree is known by its fruit. O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.”114114 Matt. xii. 33, 34. The import of such language, as well as other forms of language115115 Matt. ix. 12.—even when bearing a special application—is sufficiently obvious. Sin is set forth as a disease or corruption 125of human nature. It is not merely an act, but a state which clings to the race, a tendency lying in our nature, and which is constantly coming forth into action. It is in the flesh—the product of the natural birth; and “that which is born of the flesh is flesh.”116116 John, iii. 6. This doctrine of the “flesh” as the seat of sin will afterwards come before us fully in the writings of St. Paul. In the meantime, it is interesting to trace the definite allusion to it in the fourth Gospel. The idea is clearly announced, but it is only touched. In St. Paul we shall find it fully expanded.
5. Along with this, another aspect of sin is very prominent in the Gospels in connection with our Lord’s miracles. Sin is not merely a disease or corruption of human nature, but it is closely associated with frightful forms of physical malady and human unhappiness. It leaves a deep stain of guilt and wretchedness which repeats itself in individuals, families, and nations. The sick of the palsy needs spiritual no less than physical healing. Nay, the key of the bodily cure is through the spiritual. “Whether is easier to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and walk?”117117 Matt. ix. 5. The demon-possessed are diseased in body as in mind-blind and dumb as well as insane and violent.118118 Matt. viii. 28, xii. 22; Mark, v. 2-13. There is clearly 126implied in our Lord’s language119119 See also Luke, v. 20; John v. 14. a mysterious affinity betwixt natural and moral evil. The latter bears with it not only its proper doom of alienation from all that is spiritually good, but carries with it, moreover, a frequent train of natural doom and disaster. It issues in many forms of guilt and misery, and casts its gloomy shadow far beyond its immediate subject. This aspect of sin will also again and more elaborately meet us in St. Paul; but it deserves to be noted here, not only because it is so far clearly indicated in our Lord’s teaching, but because He has Himself also cautioned us against the arbitrary misuse of the principle which it involves. While the consequences of sin are so fatal in individuals and in families, passing over in many forms of inherited wretchedness from generation to generation, and showing its existence in physical no less than in moral calamity, we are not yet warranted in connecting natural and moral evil together in particular cases. “Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower of Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, Nay; but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.”120120 Luke, xiii. 4, 5. Again, in a well-known passage in the fourth Gospel: “Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his 127parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.”121121 John, ix. 2, 3. In other words—for this is what our Lord’s teaching comes to in this matter—the punitive justice of God is a great fact. It is stamped on all the darker phenomena of human life-disease, insanity, and death. It is in the nature of sin to entail suffering, and work itself, as an element of punishment, into all the complicated web of human existence. But it is not ours to fix or apportion its blame. It is present in every form of suffering; but the incidence of suffering is no measure of individual demerit in the tangled spectacle of human existence.
6. Sin, which thus belongs to our nature, and cleaves to it so terribly, is necessarily universal. The language of the Psalmist, “There is no man that doeth good and sinneth not,” is plainly the affirmation, if not in so many words, of Christ. He addresses His invitation of grace to all. He is come to seek and to save that which is lost.122122 Luke, xix. 10. The clear inference is, that all have sunk from the good which they ought to have—“All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.”123123 Rom. iii. 23. No doubt, there are passages also in which Christ seems to discriminate betwixt members of the human race as “evil and good,” “just and unjust,”124124 Matt. v. 45. and where He would even seem to imply that there are those who 128have no need of His spiritual teaching,—“They that are whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”125125 Luke v. 31, 32. But such passages are plainly capable of an explanation, which leaves the fact of universal sinfulness without challenge. They find their explanation in the fact, that our Lord’s language, here and everywhere, is not the language of theological analysis, but of common life. And as we say that there are good and bad men in the world, without meaning to affirm that there are any men without sin, so the Gospels speak of the evil and the good, the just and the unjust. The “honest and good heart” which receives the truth is not a heart in which there is no evil, but one in which the evil has not so hardened and shut out the work of the Spirit as to prevent its responding to the force of the truth when presented to it. There may still be another meaning in such words of the Lord, as that He came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance—a meaning not without a latent touch of satire, if we can imagine such a thing. The “righteous” in His time was something of a phrase. There were those like the Pharisees who made a profession of righteousness, “going about to establish their own righteousness.”126126 Rom. x. 3. Our Lord might say that He came not to call these—not that they did not 129need His call, but because they thought themselves too good to need it. They were after their own views, perfect in legal righteousness, and they knew of no other. There was nothing in them, any more than there was in those altogether hardened in evil, to respond to His call. In the one class the spiritual consciousness was dead, in the other it was self-satisfied. The call of a Saviour could reach neither till the depths of personal feeling were stirred in them, and the distress of sin arose from these depths as something too hard to be borne.
This spiritual susceptibility is everywhere presupposed as a condition of receiving divine grace and truth. But the absence of the susceptibility is not to be held as an evidence that we do not need both—in other words, that we are not sinners. The fact that we have no sense of our need—that we have never cried “out of the depths,” “If thou, Lord, shouldst mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?”—this, to say the least, only proves, not that we have no sin, but that we have failed to realise the responsibilities of our spiritual life—that we have been living upon the surface of intellectual and social conventions, and have never got down to the depth of our own spiritual being, or fronted the dreadful realities of sin, righteousness, and judgment. It was easy to the Pharisee and Scribe in the time of our Lord—it may be easy to the intellectualist and 130the man of the world now—to dwell within the levels of their own conventional thought, and feel from these levels as if a call to repentance had for them no meaning. But let the levels once be broken up, the fountains of their deeper life unsealed, and the waters thereof roar and be troubled, and then the spiritual call will be found to have an answer in their hearts, and facts more real than any their conventions have ever measured will find an utterance within them. Let it be remembered, although it is often forgotten, that Christianity always takes human nature at the fullest—in its complete mass of need, feeling, and aspiration. It is not man as Pharisee or Sadducee, as intellectualist or mystic or sensualist, but man as containing in himself the potencies of all these—as a being of manifold complex energy, with work and ambitions on earth, but with aspirations towards heaven. Within such a full-souled being, awake to his true position in the world, there will always be—the Gospel assumes—the sense of sin, the self-witness of having erred, and strayed, and done evil before the eye of Divine Purity, that searches us through and through, although it looks not on our sin.
7. But this view of the subject suggests a further and final characteristic of our Lord’s teaching regarding sin, which it is important to notice. While man is everywhere a sinner before Him who 131was Himself “holy, harmless, undefiled,” yet he is nowhere represented as nothing but a sinner. “There is no man that doeth good and sinneth not” in the Gospels any more than elsewhere in Scripture. But the Gospels are singularly free from those exaggerated colours in which a later theology has sometimes drawn human nature. Man is a fallen and degraded being. He is at the best, be he Pharisee or Publican, among the “lost” whom Christ came to seek and to save. But he is noble even in his degradation. There is a capacity of divine life in him, beneath all the ruin of his nature. He is godlike, even with the image of his divine original broken and defaced. The divine likeness is obscured, but not obliterated. It may be traced amidst all the accumulations of sinful ruin. The very misery of man, as Pascal has said—interpreting this aspect of our Lord’s teaching—attests his true greatness. He is a king dethroned, but still a king. The crown has fallen from his head, its gold has become dim and its most fine gold changed, but there is the faint lustre of it yet on his brow, and the dignity of having once worn it still lives in his heart. There is nothing more characteristic of our Lord’s teaching than this recognition of the divine original of humanity, and of the divine potency which still survives in it. This is the only key to His redemptive mission. He came to recover the fallen, and to set up that which had 132been thrown down. He saw what was in man more truly than all others. He saw the possibilities of restoration in the demoniac and the Magdalene—the promise of an eternal life in the trustfulness of the thief upon the cross—the divine sparks still living amidst all the waste of ruined lives. The cry of the returning prodigal was heard by Him a far way off; and even while he ate of the husks and grovelled with the swine, the thought of his divine home had not died out of him, and the capacity of return had not absolutely perished.
Dark as sin ever is, therefore, in the view of our Lord, and fallen as human nature is, it is not yet, as it has been sometimes represented, a mere mass of corruption. The tone which could say of it that it contains nothing but sin, and produces nothing which is not damnable, [See Appendix XV.] is foreign to the Gospels. Such language, even in its extravagance, may represent a true side of human nature—human nature in entire divorce from the Divine—but certainly not a fair picture of human life. The higher vision of Christ embraces not only one side but all sides of humanity, and penetrates beneath all surface manifestations to its inner secrets. And therefore His view is always at once compassionate and comprehensive—stern, yet gracious. He sees man not merely as he is or seems to be, but as he 133is capable of being. His vision is complete and creative. It takes in the end from the beginning; and from amidst the broken and ruined fragments of the divine original beholds arising again, under His redeeming touch and the quickening power of His regenerating Spirit, new shapes of spiritual excellence—the new man, created after His own image in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness.
As one has said, speaking of this subject, in words so fitly and eloquently descriptive that we may close this Lecture with them:—
“Not half a century ago a great man was seen stooping and working in a charnel-house of bones. Uncouth, nameless fragments lay around him, which the workmen had dug up and thrown aside as rubbish. They belonged to some far back ages; and no man knew what they were or whence. Few men cared. The world was merry at the sight of a philosopher groping among mouldy bones. But when that creative mind, reverently discerning the fontal types of being in diverse shapes, brought together those strange fragments, bone to bone, and rib to claw, and both to its corresponding vertebrae, recombining the wondrous forms of past ages, and presenting each to the astonished world as it lived and moved a hundred thousand years back, then men began to perceive that a new science had begun on earth. And such was the creative [vision and] 134work of Christ. He took the scattered fragments of our ruined nature, interpreted their meaning, showed the original intent of those powers which were now only destructive—drew out from publicans and sinners yearnings which were incomprehensible, feelings which were misunderstood—vindicated the beauty of their original intention, showed the divine order below the chaos, and exhibited to the world once more a human soul in the form in which God had made it, saying to the dry bones, live.”127127 Sermons by the late Rev. F. W. Robertson. Second Series. “On Christ’s Estimate of Sin,” p. 199, 200.135
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