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DOCTRINE OF ST. PAUL’S EPISTLES.
IT requires but little insight to recognise the difference of our Lord’s form of teaching in the Gospels, and that of St. Paul in his Epistles. In the former case we have for the most part concrete statements or pictures. The moral truth of Judaism and the higher truths of the Gospel are described in life and character. They come before us in authoritative announcement or living form, in graphic incident or pictured parable. Sin and righteousness are alike embodied in vivid representation. Even in the Sermon on the Mount, and elsewhere where our Lord appears directly as an instructor, and where, as we have seen, He develops the idea of sin, amplifying and deepening it, in contrast to His own spiritual ideal, as a spiritual state or attitude, and not merely an external act or breach of the letter of the law, He does so not by explanation or argument, but by revealed assertion and authority. He sets forth the fact—His higher conception of the divine law on the 136one hand, and His deeper and more spiritual conception of sin on the other hand. He does not deal in analysis or definition.
Nowhere in Scripture are the lines of the Good and of the Evil drawn more firmly or brought into sharper and clearer antagonism than in the Gospels. We feel as we read them everywhere the vivid breath of moral life and death. Sin in all its phases comes out in striking reality in His presence who is the “Light of the world.” The forces of evil, whether embodied in Pharisee or Sadducee, in Herodian or Scribe, in Magdalene or Prodigal, in high priest or Roman governor, are distinctly and powerfully conceived, so that we can have no doubt of their features,—what it is to be good and what it is to be evil—what it is to be at one with the Divine, and what it is to be opposed to it. But withal, the teaching is by affirmation or example rather than by definition—by synthesis rather than by analysis. This is our Lord’s manner: “Verily, verily, I say unto you.” He taught as one “having authority, and not as the Scribes.” His lessons were like the lessons of nature—graphic, living, comprehensive—addressed to the eye as well as the thought—majestic in their simplicity, inexhaustible in their divine fulness of meaning.
It is very different with St. Paul. He is a great preacher, but he is still more characteristically a great Christian scribe or writer. The fulness of 137divine truth is broken up in him into its several parts. It does not dwell in him bodily. It is not set forth by him-as in the Gospels—in creative and ideal types. St. Paul had been trained in the Jewish schools. He had been a “Hebrew of the Hebrews—as touching the law a Pharisee.” He was familiar not merely with the living aspects of Jewish thought and character, but with the argumentative subtleties of the one, and the practical casuistries of the other. He was accustomed to find definitions for his opinions, and arguments for his assertions. He was a scholastic in intellect, if a missionary in enthusiasm. His manner, in calm statement, is essentially dialectical. And so we find, as we might expect to find, the more simple and concrete teaching of the Gospels not only expanded in the Pauline Epistles, but defined and analysed, and, if we may say so, rationalised and set forth in its several elements in their intellectual and spiritual relation to one another.
Our business is only with St. Paul’s doctrine of sin; but his doctrine on this subject is closely intertwined with his system of doctrine, and especially with his central doctrine of righteousness by faith, and his vivid, if varying, conception of the law. It is necessary, so far, to bring into view his general system of thought, in order to understand the full meaning of his doctrine of sin.138
The two great ideas of righteousness and law were typical ideas of the Hebrew mind. They were essentially correlated, and the one can only be understood in connection with the other. So soon as we touch the sphere of Revelation we come prominently within the range of moral law; we find ourselves in face of a divine Will, and of human wills rightfully subject to it. This is an infinitely higher stage of thought than any attained within the sphere of natural religion, or of religion outside of Revelation. But whether admitted to be higher or not, there can be no doubt of the fact that the Old Testament is everywhere the Revelation of a divine Will dealing with human wills; and the tenor of this Revelation is that the human will can only find its happiness in harmony with the Divine. This harmony of the Divine and human is righteousness: and the key-note of the Old Testament through all its pages is, that righteousness alone is blessedness. “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners. . . . But his delight is in the law of the Lord. . . . The Lord knoweth the way of the righteous; but the way of the ungodly shall perish.”128128 Psalm i. 1, 2, 6. “The word righteousness,” as a modern writer129129 M. Arnold, Lit. and Dogma, p. 18. has said, “is the master-word of the Old Testament.” “Blessed are they that keep judgment, and he that 139doeth righteousness.”130130 Psalm cvi. 3. “Cease to do evil; learn to do well.”131131 Isa. i. 16, 17. “Stand in awe, and sin not. . . . Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and put your trust in the Lord.”132132 Psalm iv. 4, 5. Here righteousness consists in obedience to law, or conformity of the human will to the Divine. To be right, is to be at one with God; to be wrong, is to be at variance with God. God is not only the head of the Hebrew theocracy—the divine source from which it came—but He is a living presence through all its manifestations and activities. The divine Will was supposed to be immediately expressed in every channel of the Hebrew law and prophets—as much in one channel, or part of it, as another. “The law, the fulfilment of the law” (righteousness), “and the divine Author of the law, pass into each other. The mind is carried on imperceptibly from the one to the other.”133133 Jowett’s Com. on the Epistle to the Romans, p. 54.
To us the divine law is specially the moral law, or the ten words or commandments of Moses. We distinguish betwixt what we call the ceremonial or the political law of the Jews, and the moral law. But the Jews themselves made no such distinction. The law was to them in their later history the whole law of Moses as contained in the Pentateuch. Nay, the term law assumed a still wider significance, and seems to have been identified with the whole letter of the 140Old Testament, as interpreted and applied by the Sopherim or Scribes. St. Paul uses the word in more senses than one. It has, we shall see, a higher or universal meaning for him, as well as a common meaning. But the common meaning which it bears for him, as for other Jews, is the whole Jewish or Old Testament system.134134 1 Cor. ix. 9, xiv. 34; Rom. v. 13, 20; Gal. ii. 14, 16, iii. 17, 19. See Appendix XVI. This was the law which he had known before his conversion, as touching which he was a Pharisee. And this is the law which plays such a part in his writings, in contrast to the Gospel and the freedom which the Gospel brings with it.
The mind of the Jew was impregnated by this idea of law. It was the law which made his religion. The two terms, or the two ideas, had become co-ordinate with him. He rested in the law, and made his boast of God as its Author.135135 Rom. ii. 17. It was to him a vast system, all equally of divine authorship. It is easy for us to trace and estimate the relation of its several parts, and to distinguish what is spiritual and permanent in it, from what is ceremonial and temporary. But this was the last thing of which a Jewish mind was capable. All in his religion seemed to the Jew equally sacred. It is the tendency of all national religion 141to take up into it much that is accidental and temporary, and to extend the same sanction of divine authority to all parts of its creed and ritual—the non-essential no less than the essential. And this tendency was one specially favored by the character of Judaism after the Captivity, and the prominence which it gave to the scholastic element in its exposition and diffusion. St. Paul inherited this tendency in its full force as a typical Jew—“a Hebrew of the Hebrews.” The Jewish law had been to him, at least, all that it was to other Jews of his time. He seems jealous that any should be able to say that they prized it more than he had done; that they understood it better, or placed a more extended and significant meaning upon it. If it had been possible to be saved by the law—by appreciation of its divine character, by faithful and zealous obedience to its prescriptions—he would have found that salvation. As touching the righteousness which is in the law, he held himself blameless.
When St. Paul speaks specially of the law, therefore, in contrast to the Gospel, he means the whole Jewish law. He did not, as we are now in the habit of doing, discriminate its parts, or separate them in their historical development and relative importance, any more than the other Jews of his time. What he did, and what distinguished him as a spiritual thinker and teacher, was something far 142more important than this. He saw that the idea of law was not limited by its Jewish conception. The thought in which he had been bred clung to him. Judaism was to him a great system of antique growth, and venerable in all its parts. He had faithfully tried to find religious life within the system, and yielded to none in the admiration with which he had regarded it.: But all the while he had been learning that the thought of God was greater than any system. And when he became a Christian he saw this clearly. He saw that God had never left Himself without a witness on the earth; and that what He had been specially doing for the Jewish people by the law, He had been more or less doing for all people by the voice of reason and the monitions of conscience.
While the law, therefore, remained to St. Paul what he had been trained to esteem it—the whole sphere of the theocratic institutions (only seen in a more spiritual light)—yet it lost for him its exclusiveness. It took its place, not as the whole of the divine plan for man’s spiritual education, which, before his conversion, it had seemed to him as well as to other Jews, but only as a phase of that plan, preceded by the divine promise to Abraham, and supplemented by all the indications of natural reason and conscience outside of Judaism. The idea of law, in short, was for him expanded and broadened in a 143sense unknown to Pharisaism. It became a universal principle of moral order encompassing all life, however dimly known or realised. The Jews had enjoyed a special Revelation. The Divine had been made clear to them in definite command and precept,—“Line upon line, precept upon precept.” This was their privilege and boast. There could be no doubt, therefore, of their responsible relation to the Divine. The only doubt was whether the Divine had not been obscured to them by the very multiplicity of the sanctions which had been drawn from it—whether they had not lost the quick sense of the spiritual in the manifoldness of the letter. But the fact of a divine Ideal was something which all nations might have known—an undeniable reality revealed in nature, and cognisable by reason and conscience. The invisible things of God were to be clearly seen in creation and providence by all discerning and devout hearts. Reverence for the Divine, and obedience to it, were therefore obligatory within the pale of Gentilism no less than of Judaism. The absence of a special Revelation, or definite form of divine law, did not leave men excused in their violations of duty. There was the capacity in all men of reaching to a knowledge of the Divine, and of a higher divine order; and this, in the absence of definite divine institutions, was a law in itself. “For when the Gentiles, which have not 144the law, do by nature the things contained in the law these having not the law are a law unto themselves.”136136 Rom. ii. 14. Here the common and higher meaning of the word appear together; and the apostle passes rapidly from the one to the other, the great thought in both cases being that there is a moral order behind all moral life, and that the truth and rightness of the life are only found in consistency with the order.
This is the backbone, so to speak, of all St. Paul’s thought, as indeed of that Hebrew thought which he so prominently represented. He was not less but more a Hebrew in that he was capable of rising above the Jewish stand-point of his time, and embracing not only the chosen race but the human race within his moral Ideal. The Jews were especially the children of law. They had been placed under special divine tutelage and government, for the very purpose that the idea of divine authority might be brought home to the human mind, and made a living part of it. Their system of policy and government, therefore, was especially the law, and it was difficult for the ordinary Jewish mind to conceive of divine authority apart from a system which was for it equivalent to the Divine. St. Paul did not himself see beyond it for a time. But when the broader vision came to him, it was not by losing the moral depth of his early faith, but by understanding and 145realising it more clearly. He did not, in other words, pass out of Hebraism to a less serious view of humanity; but he extended its essential thought so as to embrace humanity. The principle of divine authority which his national religion had nurtured was set free in his mind from the restraints in which he and other Jewish teachers had been accustomed to regard it, and was felt to be a universal principle lying at the root of all human happiness and all moral progress.
It is in the light of this principle of law or moral order that St. Paul views all mankind, and that his doctrine of sin is set forth in its several aspects. Carrying with him this principle, he applied it to Jew and Gentile alike, and pronounced all men to be sinners. With reference to the same principle, more or less, he unfolded the nature and the effects of sin. The main points of the Pauline doctrine will arrange themselves naturally under three successive heads: 1st, The universality of sin; 2d, The nature or seat of sin; and, 3d, The effects or consequences of sin. St. Paul has a great deal to say on all these points that it concerns us to know, and his manner of teaching them is all the more interesting that it involves throughout an appeal to experience. Granting to him the principle which lies behind all his thought, and which it was the great function of Hebraism to plant in the human consciousness, that man is a moral 146being subject to divine authority—in other words, a subject of law—St. Paul works out his doctrine of sin in the main experimentally. He takes man, and, placing him in the mirror of divine law, shows him all the ruin and sadness of his moral state. He appeals against himself to facts of experience which admit of no denial; and lays bare the hidden folds of his moral consciousness with a keenness of psychological analysis that penetrates to the roots of his spiritual nature. We receive his words as words of divine authority; but they derive a peculiar interest and power from the manner in which they bring us into contact with spiritual facts, and clothe themselves with a life of experience which all higher minds may verify. It is in the great Epistle to the Romans that St. Paul especially unfolds his doctrine of sin, and to which our attention, therefore, will be mainly confined in this and the following Lecture.
1. In the opening of the epistle, St. Paul brings mankind, both Jew and Gentile, to the bar of moral judgment. He sets them in the light of that divine righteousness which had been growing in the’ consciousness of the devout Israelite for centuries, and which had received such a powerful illustration in the life and death of Christ. This righteousness was a subject of Revelation. Man had not reached it by his own tentative moral gropings or ideas. It had come forth from God, the expression of His character 147and will, and had only been attainable always through a living relation to Him—in other words, through faith. The life of the righteous spoken of in the Old Testament was, in its highest form, not a life of moral effort, but of divine receptivity, as when Habakkuk says that “the just shall live by his faith.”137137 Hab. ii. 4; Rom. i. 17. But the actual state, both of the Gentile and the Jewish world, was infinitely removed from this life of righteousness, which is only realized through faith in the Divine. And with the view of showing this, he turns first to the moral state of the Gentiles. He speaks of what he sees around him. There is no reason to suppose that he exaggerates the picture of ungodliness and immorality which he draws with so powerful a pencil.
As the life of righteousness or moral order was the realisation of the divine Will for man, so the life of unrighteousness and moral disorder was the reverse of this, and therefore hateful to God. As the one was the object of divine complacency, the other was the object of divine wrath. And as St. Paul looked abroad over the Gentile world, he saw everywhere the revelation of this wrath against the abounding enormities of human sin.138138 Rom. i. 18. Nor could the Gentiles plead ignorance of the Divine in excuse of their impiety and unrighteousness. On the contrary, the very strength of his accusation against them is 148that they hindered, obscured, and obstructed the truth by their unrighteousness.139139 Rom. i. 18. The Divine was sufficiently made known to them. God had Himself made it known in the works of nature and in the instincts of the Divine originally planted within their hearts. The apostle clearly indicates the fact of man being able to reach the knowledge of the Divine without a special or positive Revelation. There is a faculty of God-knowledge in man originally, a susceptibility of higher truth, for the use of which man is responsible, and for the abuse of which he is condemnable. “That which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath showed it unto them. For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.”140140 Rom. i. 19, 20. There is that in man, call it reason or conscience, which, looking out upon the world, ought to see in it the expression of divine thought and energy-of a living and eternal Mind; and the primary root of sin in the Gentiles was that they had allowed the revelation of the Divine to be utterly obscured in them. Made capable of knowing God, and having around them a constant witness of His eternal power and Godhead, they failed to glorify Him as God, or to cherish feelings of reverence or 149thankfulness towards the divine Author of their being and of the world. “They became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts.”141141 Rom. i. 21-24.
The source of sin in the Gentile world was this obscuration of the idea of God. Man having sunk away from God, necessarily sank away from the life of righteousness which was only to be found in the knowledge of the divine character, and conformity to the divine will. The truth which they might have known they hindered, and changed into a lie.142142 Rom. i. 25. Abjuring the creative Will, and turning away from its manifestations, they fell under the dominion of the creature. Nature took the place of the Divine in their hearts; and the consequences are pictured with a terrible realism by the apostle.
It is unnecessary for us to touch the details of the picture. It is enough to draw attention to the fact which he emphasises at the close—that the sins of which he speaks were pronounced to be sins even by the higher sense of those who practised them. The idea of divine law was not utterly gone in the Gentile 150mind, even amidst the sinful excesses which he describes. There was a divine voice made itself heard through all, passing judgment on such things; and the worst that could be said of the Gentiles—their deepest sin—was that they, “knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.”143143 Rom. i. 32.
But were the Jews any better in reality? Were they any less sinners, notwithstanding all their privileges? With them there could be no question of a knowledge of the Divine. They had received the law and the prophets. The life of divine righteousness had been set forth in word, example, sacrifice, and precept, in their sacred books. To them had been committed “the oracles of God.”144144 Rom. iii. 2. What was the outcome of all this? Much good, no doubt. This is not denied; on the contrary, it is plainly implied by the apostle. But was the life of righteousness, after all, really more conspicuous amongst them? They boasted of their privileges. They were ready and zealous in their condemnation of the heathen. But their condemnation of the heathen, the apostle states broadly, meant their own condemnation. The Jewish critic was condemned out of his own mouth,—“For wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the 151same things.” And the judgment of God is equally true against all evil-doers. It allows no one to escape.145145 Rom. ii. 2, 3 et seq. Divine righteousness is impartial, and renders “to every man according to his deeds.”146146 Rom. ii. 6. The apostle enters into an elaborate expostulation with the Jew, proving at length to him that his law of which he boasts cannot benefit him unless he has fulfilled it. For it was not the hearer but the doer of the law that was righteous before God. The Gentiles who had done what was right according to their light—who, having not the law, “had done by nature the things contained in the law,”147147 Rom. ii. 14. were better really than the Jews, who, having their law and resting in it—knowing the divine will, and approving “the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law”—yet failed of its fulfilment. Of their failure in word and deed he leaves no doubt. “For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles,” he adds, “through you.”148148 Rom. ii. 24. The privileges of the Jew, therefore, were nothing without the spiritual realities they were designed to represent. “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh: but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter.”149149 Rom. ii. 29.
The result of his analysis and argument is, that the 152Jew, merely as Jew, or an external member of the theocracy is no better than the Gentile. Both are “proved” by him to be alike “under sin.”150150 Rom. iii. 9. The demands of divine righteousness being set over against human life, it is seen to fall infinitely below these demands. The divine ideal which encompasses it, and within which alone it can reach its true happiness, is nowhere realised. The voice of reason and conscience is quenched amongst the heathen. The law is broken by the Jew while he yet boasts of it. And what is true of Jew and Gentile, is true of man universally. The conclusion of the apostle—based upon facts of observation around him, in the Jewish and Gentile world—is plainly a conclusion of universal experience: “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.”151151 Rom. iii. 23.
2. Having thus established the universality of sin as a fact of experience, the’ apostle enters upon an analysis of its character and origin in human nature. It is not enough for him to assert the fact, as the basis of his great doctrine of righteousness—not by works, but by faith. He shows how the fact originates in the constitution of human nature. There is in all men, he explains, a higher and lower nature. The latter he everywhere designates by the term “flesh,”152152 Σάρξ· and develops its nature and properties now in antagonism to the “spirit”153153 Πνεῦμα· or divine principle, 153and now in contrast to what he calls the “mind;”154154 Νοῦς· for St. Paul is curiously elaborate in his analysis of human nature. He was a spiritual psychologist long before the birth of psychology as a science. The seat of sin, he says, is in the “flesh.” It is the expression of this lower element of human life: “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing.”155155 Rom. vii. 18. The unregenerate “walk after the flesh;” the regenerate, “after the spirit.” These two elements—the flesh and the spirit—mark the extreme poles of his thought. The one is the seat of sin and death, the other is the seat of holiness and life. The one is human nature estranged from the Divine; the other is human nature at one with the Divine—the Divine in man, as well as the divine Power above him, which raises him to the higher sphere. These two elements are always and utterly at variance. “The flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other.”156156 Gal. v. 17. The works of the flesh are all works of sin, as catalogued in the fifth chapter of Galatians. The fruit of the Spirit is in the higher and quite distinct sphere of the spiritual life. The breadth of this contrast everywhere appears in St. Paul’s epistles, and in describing it,, the expression “flesh” is used to designate all the evil 154activity of human nature. It describes not merely the desires of the body, the appetites and motions of our carnal frame, but all that is in us opposed to the Divine. The mind or reason may so come under the dominion of the flesh as to be virtually identical with it. The apostle, for example, speaks of being “puffed up by a fleshly mind,”157157 Φυσιούμενος ὑπὸ τοῦ νοὸς τῆς σαρκὸς—Col. ii. 18. and even of a “fleshly wisdom.”158158 Ἐν σοφίᾳ σαρκικῇ. The flesh, therefore is not to be confounded with mere sensuality. It is sense or nature predominant in us; our whole life of activity separated from the Divine and turned against it—not merely this life on the side of sensual passion. The mind, which is actuated by sense, and ruled by its power, is equally within the lower sphere. This is what the apostle calls “the mind” or “thought of the flesh;” and this is specially declared to be hostile to God, the enemy of the Divine.159159 ”The carnal mind” (τὸ φρόνημα τῆς σαρκὸς) “is enmity against God”—Rom. viii. 7.
But while the mind may be thus subject to the flesh, and the two make war against the Spirit or the Divine, the mind may also itself be alive and powerful, and may enter, in its own strength, into a struggle with the flesh; in other words, the higher nature of man, always depressed and often entirely controlled by the lower nature, may also assert its own rights as an antagonist of the lower nature, and 155strenuously resist its domination. St. Paul seems clearly to recognise the reality of this conflict no less than the other.160160 See Appendix XVII.—Neander’s exposition of the Pauline doctrine, in his History of the Planting and Training of the Christian Church (B. vi., c. i.), where this view seems to me to be clearly vindicated. His view sometimes enlarges to the one, sometimes contracts to the other. He now looks at human nature, banded in all its energies against the Divine, and then he looks at it as the sphere of a terrible struggle betwixt the good and the evil. This appears to be the only fair interpretation of the remarkable seventh chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, although, I need hardly say, it has been differently interpreted. Here the antagonistic elements are not the “flesh ” and the “spirit,” but the “flesh” and something higher within the man himself—“the inward man,”161161 Ἔσω ἄνθρωπον—Rom. vii. 22. “the law of the mind;”162162 Νόμος τοῦ νοός-Rom. vii. 23. and the whole picture conveys the idea of the essential war there is in every conscious moral life betwixt the higher and lower principles at work within it. The general result of the apostle’s analysis seems to be as follows:—
Man is a creature of mingled impulses, some higher and some lower. Moral life only begins in him with the consciousness of this double or contradictory nature, partly drawing him to good and partly drawing him to evil. It seems plainly recognised that 156man may go on without any moral consciousness. He may be dead in sin.163163 Eph. ii. 1, 5. The flesh may usurp his whole nature. There may be nothing beyond its life in him. Conscience may be asleep, or may never lift its eyes to take in the solemn realities of duty. But it is always there, even when slumbering at its post; and when the sense of duty—or, in other words, the law—is brought home to it, there is no more contentedness in the mere natural or selfish life. The higher being is awakened. The sense of sin—previously unknown, because the sense of duty was unfelt—comes forth in full vividness against the law made clear in conscience. It requires the consciousness of the law to reveal sin in us: not that the law itself is evil, or the cause of sin; on the contrary, it is “holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.”164164 Rom. vii. 12. But the revelation of the law within us, or the law consciously realised, is at the same time the revelation of sin. When the moral Ideal which should lead our lives rises clearly in the horizon of consciousness, then for the first time we feel how miserably short we come of the Ideal. It is easy to live contentedly if we have no Ideal. If we have no higher thoughts, how should our lower thoughts distract us? There is nothing for them to disturb—no higher expectations for them to clash with.
It may seem to some—it has seemed to many—157a good thing to have no sense of sin. There are people who say they cannot tell what sin is; they are not conscious of it, and they may count themselves happy in this unconsciousness. Not so the apostle. There was great misery to him in the consciousness of sin; but there was something still more dreadful in its unconsciousness. This was to have sunk out of the sphere of moral experience altogether, into a mere animal or fleshly sphere; to have lost not merely the Divine, but, so to speak, the capacity of it—any trace of it upon which the higher power could take hold, and draw the sinner to itself. This was the worst of all states to him—a state in which he had found himself when “without the law sin was dead.”165165 Rom. vii. 8. The state into which the law brought him was miserable enough, but its misery was better than insensibility. Better to feel the wretchedness of having come short of a moral Ideal, than not to have such an Ideal at all. It was true that the revelation of the law within him destroyed his self-complacency. It depressed and killed his former self-righteous life. “For I was alive,” he says, “without the law once; but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.”166166 Rom. vii. 9. He “had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.”167167 Rom. vii. 7. This might seem to be the worst state, and to make the law the source of sin. But not so. The sin is 158in human nature all the while; only the law wakes it by its quickening touch. It is as if a man were to take a candle into some noisome place full of unclean life lying torpid in the darkness, and under the searching light the life began to stir and show itself in its dark reality. Such is the effect of the law within the human heart. It makes sin manifest as a real and conscious power. And so the apostle says of it, in language that sounds paradoxical and has given rise to much controversy, but which has a real meaning to all spiritual minds like his own, that “the strength of sin is the law.”168168 1 Cor. xv. 56. It is the consciousness of law that gives all its force to the consciousness of sin. And the more the law is realised as the true bond of our lives, the more fatal will its infractions be felt as they appear in these lives. The consciousness of sin, therefore, is the result of the law; but we do not infer from this, as some have done, that the apostle identifies sin and its consciousness, so that “where there is no consciousness of sin there is no sin.”169169 Baur’s St. Paul, ii. 141; Jowett’s Com. on the Epistle to the Romans, p. 504, 505. See Appendix XVIII. Nothing can be further from this standpoint, as we have seen. Sin is always in human nature. It may be torpid; the flesh may have invaded the whole sphere of human activity, and killed every higher element of life. The stillness of 159death may reign within the darkened chamber. But this state is worse than the other, and the misery of struggle is better than the contentment of death.
The struggle which the apostle draws betwixt the higher and the lower nature is certainly a terrible one. There are not merely two elements at war within the soul, but two habits or tendencies. The flesh is not merely a succession of rebellious instincts, but “a law of sin in the members”—“a body of death.”170170 Rom. vii. 23, 24. The instincts of evil are gathered into an order which arrays itself against the higher order of the mind. The man is rent, as it were, in twain. His very personality is broken up—now on the side of the good, and now helpless under the evil. “It is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. . . . For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.... I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man; but I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.”171171 Rom. vii. 17, 19, 21-23. The language of the apostle implies the hopelessness of this struggle, looked at from a mere human point of view, so long as only the mind or the higher principle within us is the antagonist of the flesh. It must be reinforced by the Divine. The mind must be 160changed into the spirit,—in other words, the reason must be spiritualised. The divine Power must become ours before the power of the flesh can be mastered. Otherwise the higher self still goes down under the force of the lower—even when it clings to its Ideal, and says in despair—It is not I, but sin. “When I would do good, evil is present with me. . . O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”
To sum up our exposition, the seat of sin we have seen with St. Paul is the “flesh.” This in its broadest sense is distinguished from the “spirit.” As thus distinguished, the flesh represents the whole of human nature in its estrangement from the Divine—all the activities of body and mind with which fallen man is capable of opposing the Divine. Reason, or our higher nature, may in this sense be flesh no less than the body. There may be a wisdom after the flesh and a righteousness of the same character. The idea of the flesh, in short, may invade the whole sphere of human nature, and is supposed to do so when it is brought into contact with the spirit. But the “mind,” reason, or higher thought, may also set itself against the flesh, instead of yielding to the lower principle, and may enter into conflict with it in its own strength, and fight it with its native weapons. This it does more or less in all higher natures. The law of the mind refuses to bend 161to the law of the members, but wars against it. Unless reinforced by a higher principle it wars unsuccessfully. But this is no reason for denying the reality of the struggle, or for making human nature worse than it is. It is something that the mind refuses to bend to the flesh, and that even if beaten in the struggle, it is there to show that man has not utterly sunk into evil and made it his good.
3. We turn, in conclusion, to consider the effects or consequences of sin as described by St. Paul. These occupy a prominent place in his system of thought, and constitute an essential element of his doctrine. The effects of sin are viewed by the apostle under two aspects—the one in the main subjective, the other objective. The general name by which he describes the former is “death.” “The wages of sin,” he says, “is death.”172172 Τὰ ὀψώνια τῆς ἁμαρτίας Θάνατος—Rom. vi. 23. “What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death.”173173 Rom. vi. 21. “When we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death.”174174 Rom. vii. 5. This solemn expression occurs incessantly in St. Paul’s writings in connection with our subject. Death everywhere follows sin as its shadow. A state of sin is a state of death. The unregenerate are described as “dead in their sins,”175175 Col. ii. 13. as “dead in trespasses 162and sins.”176176 Eph. ii. 1. The presence of the flesh oppressing the mind is a “body of death.”177177 Rom. vii. 24. The issue of sin is death. It is the end to which it leads, the wages which it receives. The one cleaves to the other inseparably—not only death to sin, but sin to death. For “the sting,” or “goad,” “of death is sin.”178178 Τὸ δὲ κέντρον τοῦ θανάτου ἡ ἁμαρτία—1 Cor. xv. 56. It is sin that urges death on, and makes it so bitter in the result.
Such language necessarily carries us, as it carried St. Paul, back to the idea of death associated with the primal sin. “Ye shall not eat of it” (“the fruit of the tree in the midst of the garden”), “neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.”179179 Gen. iii. 3. There the main meaning, as we formerly said, must be supposed to be spiritual. The act was a moral act. It bore with it the seeds of moral injury. Disobedience of the divine command involved the loss of that divine communion which is the true life of the moral creature. The will which had turned away from God had the seeds of weakness and wickedness implanted in it. It lost spiritual healthfulness; it sank into decay and dissolution.
But what of physical death? it may be asked. Is not this also in Scripture immediately connected with sin as its consequence? Is it not so specially 163in St. Paul’s Epistles?180180 Rom. v. 14; 1 Cor. xv. 21, 22, 55. What, then, are we to make of this? To the modern mind death is a purely natural fact. It comes in course of time as the natural issue of all organism, which by its very life spends itself, and hastens towards dissolution as an inevitable end. We cannot conceive any individual life perpetuated under the existing laws of the external world. Continued life is only possible through death; and new organisms can only spring from the decay of the old. The physical fact of death, therefore, cannot be traced to sin as its sole cause. Nor can St. Paul be said to do this. Even when he speaks of death as the dissolution of the body, it is not only this dissolution that he means, but death with all its adjuncts of pain and sadness and spiritual apprehension. This is the death of which sin is the sting. This is the ordinary fact to all thoughtful men—not the mere decay of an organism which, because it is an organism, must decay, and by the mere fact of its living waste away. In such decay there is sadness as in all decay, yet nothing strange or gloomy. Death is always more than this to men and women who have loved and thought—all whose being has been steeped in spiritual association and passion. The natural fact is to them inseparable from its moral accessories of loss and misery. And the feeling is 164irresistible which associates death with all our other evil, and makes it seem, in all its painful accidents, if not in its mere occurrence, as the consequence of sin. Were there no darkness in our lives—did sin not waste and ruin them—then death could hardly be to us what it is. There would be no terror in it. The gloom of it would vanish or be less oppressive. It is this full meaning of the fact, even on its physical side for moral creatures, that the apostle brings into causal connection with sin. Death was what it was to him and his fellow-Christians because of sin. The final shadow rested on human life because that life had turned itself away from God, and chosen the evil rather than the good.
But if the apostle’s view of the consequences of sin included death as an external fact, the special meaning of the fact for him as for the older Scripture writers was spiritual. It was the spiritual which included the literal, and gave its deepest stamp to the word, and not the reverse. The expressions we have already quoted plainly indicate this. The state of death which comes from sin as its immediate consequence, was the state of those living around him. It had been the state of the Ephesian and Colossian brethren previous to their conversion. It was so far the consciousness of all in whom the power of the flesh was striving successfully against the law of the mind, and bringing it into captivity to the 165law of sin which is in the members.181181 Rom. vii. 23. Conceived in this spiritual sense, death may be a passive or active state. To be dead in sin is to be as yet in the mere natural fleshly state in which the higher life has not emerged, or the law been revealed—the state to which we formerly adverted as the worst of all in the apostle’s view, without God and without hope in the world. This is spiritual death in its extreme form, in which the moral nature has been so injured, depressed, and weakened, that it is not conscious of its injury. It is not there at all, in fact. The flesh has destroyed it. The lower nature has not only beaten down the higher nature, but so to speak dispossessed it, and reigns alone. There is no struggle, therefore; all is stillness, but it is the stillness of death. The true nature of the man, his moral activity, has been killed. He is therefore appropriately described as “dead in sin.”
But the state of conscious struggle which is also depicted by the apostle, in which the higher nature is alive yet ineffectually active in its conflict with the flesh, is also “death.” The apostle felt it to be so in his own case.. For he says, when the idea of good first came to him in the commandment, sin revived, and he died. “Who shall deliver me,” he cried, “from the body of this death?”182182 Rom. vii. 24. The more sin is active or living within us, the more we are dead. 166And if we are not utterly dead, if the moral life is not gone in us altogether, but we are conscious of a good at which we ought to aim—a law which demands our service—we shall have a corresponding consciousness of fatal failure. We shall realise our own moral prostration. We shall feel, in other words, how far we have sunk from the ideal of our lives, and lost the good we ought to have had, and laid up for ourselves misery that we might have escaped,—“wrath against the day of wrath, and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.” All this experience is death to a soul in which there still live any higher thoughts. Who has not known such terrible moments—when we have been made to possess our sins, and the iniquities of youth have laid hold of us with the grip of death; when the consciousness of lost opportunities, and enfeebled or wasted power, and the dreams of vanished good have haunted us—and we have dwelt in darkness, as them that have been long dead? Ah, my friends! these are realities, let men theorise about sin as they may. What men or women that you would care to know have not felt something of them—have not, in short, felt the sentence of death in themselves, as they have thought of what they might have done, or what they might have been, if they had striven more steadfastly, and sought the strength of God more carefully?167
This brings us to the last view of St. Paul’s doctrine. Death, in so far as it is spiritual, is subjective. It is a state, that is to say, in man, whether realised by him or not, But the word seems also sometimes to point to the objective relation which all sin bears to God, as when it is said that death, or a state of condemnation, “has passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.”183183 Rom. v. 12. In any case, such an objective relation of sin to the divine Holiness and Justice is clearly expressed in the Pauline Epistles. And the special name given to it is sufficiently emphatic. It is called the “wrath of God.”184184 Ὀργή Θεοῦ· “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.” “Wrath against the day of wrath.”185185 Rom. i. 18, ii. 5. “Because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience.”186186 Eph. v. 6; Col. iii. 6. “Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past, in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.”187187 Eph. ii. 3. These and many other passages speak of our sin as not merely misery to ourselves, but as offensive to God, and the object of His judicial punishment. This is the special idea conveyed—disobedience in us necessarily provokes judgment in God. There can be no other relation between human sin and divine righteousness 168but one of condemnation—of vindictive punishment, using the words in their proper sense. This is a true element of the Pauline doctrine, and, indeed, enters into the very heart of it. Sin is not only death in us, but deserves the sentence of death. It is under the divine wrath and curse. And it would be ill with us if it were not so. If God were not sure to punish the evil, and to make it bear, so far as it remains evil, the weight of His condemnation, the good would lose for us its reality: Punishment may be hard, but it lies not only in the nature of sin itself, but in the nature of a holy divine Will that loves righteousness and hates wickedness.188188 Psalm xlv. 7. Such a Will can only go forth towards sin in punishment of some kind, and a righteous doom must rest upon it as its due award in a righteous universe. But this subject will receive fuller consideration in our next and final Lecture.169
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