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§ IV.—CHAPTER VI.

SPECIAL EXAMINATION CONTINUED—SIN.

THE considerations presented in the foregoing chapters serve, we apprehend, somewhat to obviate special difficulties regarding the wisdom and goodness of God. The various forms of evil which meet us as apparently formidable obstacles in the way of the theistic inference, are found, on examination, to be at least by no means so formidable as at first they appear. At the very worst, they do not exhibit themselves as unmixed evils. They bear, every one of them, some compensatory significance of an important kind. On the general platform of animal life, and in reference to the most comprehensive phenomena of evil which there occur, this compensatory character is so prominent, and enters so directly into the intended constitution of things, that it seems greatly to remove the element of difficulty which superficially is felt to exist. Pain, while it shows itself to be contingently related to pleasure in the very nature of the sensitive organism—to be a liability springing out of the very fact of the good—appears reduced to its minimum throughout the lower brute creation; 330while organic extinction is seen to be a mere transition to higher and more abundant modes of life, in the wide and ever-expanding diversity of which the wisdom and goodness of the Deity are ever more truly and conspicuously displayed.

The same compensatory character, whereby a higher good is still developed from the partial evil, is found to mark the difficulties which occur in the sphere of human life, although manifestly it is no longer, in this sphere, so adequate for explanation. Here, while suffering is no less clearly seen to serve purposes of good, there is yet very clearly left a residuum of difficulty unexplained. The beneficent use of sorrow is indeed apparent, and thoroughly satisfactory as to its existence, proceeding on the fact that discipline is needed to purify and exalt human life; but the question at once presses itself, Why this disciplinary necessity? what explanation does it admit of?

We readily admit, therefore, that while, by the light of enlarged and impartial inquiry, we are enabled to see good everywhere in the evil, and so far to obviate the difficulties which arise from the latter regarding the Divine wisdom and goodness, we do not, by such considerations, remove the difficulties. The darkness clears away a little as we gaze steadily into it, and make ourselves familiar with it, but it is still there. The light has penetrated, but not dispersed it. It is somewhat broken up and driven back, but it only concentrates itself more deeply—in an aspect of more intense enigma—on the further point to which it has retreated.

Following this plan, however, of carrying up the different 331forms of evil which meet us in human life to their true source, we are enabled to see clearly the final amount of difficulty with which the theistic argument has to deal. If we fail to give an adequate explanation of the lower evils, it is only because they imply a further element of moral evil which arrests us. Bringing fully into view this difficulty, and holding it in all its inexplicable magnitude before us, it serves, in its very intensity, to cast a full meaning on the dependent perplexities. In this comprehending evil of sin, all the lower phenomena of evil in human life find their satisfactory explanation.

This higher view of the subject is one from which our older theistic literature has, for the most part, shrunk. It has aimed to bring out the compensatory significance of all suffering, and to show how largely good is everywhere subserved by evil; but the explanatory meaning which suffering everywhere assumes in the view of sin, has not been clearly apprehended by it. Sin has apparently been regarded as something beyond the sphere of its observation: and, holding this fact out of sight, it is not to be wondered at that an air of unsatisfactoriness should attach to its best endeavours164164   See PALEY’S Nat. Theol., chap. xxvi. BROWN’S Lectures, lect. 94. to resolve those phenomena of suffering of which we have been speaking.

On the other hand, by bringing into view the fact of sin, if the problem in the end be only deepened, it is yet simplified. The mind is left to rest on a single point of darkness, whose apprehension leaves all the different phenomena of human suffering at least fully intelligible. For when we consider 332the fact of sin, it no longer remains wonderful that there should be suffering. The true marvel would have been, if, with the presence of sin, there had not been suffering. For a moral instinct of the most direct and irresistible character assures us that the latter is everywhere the inevitable consequence of the former—that the two are bound together, and essentially coexistent, in the nature of the case. Because man is a sinner, he is a sufferer. It is sin that smites him with pain, and wounds him with sorrow. It is sin which darkens life for him, and embitters death. When we seize, therefore, this fact of sin, the mystery of suffering disappears within it.

Especially is this the case when we apprehend the fact of sin in clear connection with that complete doctrine of Theism as to the Divine goodness which formerly opened up to us in the course of our argument. In the law of conscience we found that the good interprets itself as the right. The moral good which commands us in conscience is righteousness. The one idea only sustains itself in the other, and finds its complement in it. The attribute of Divine goodness becomes, accordingly, in relation to moral life, also Divine righteousness. The two conceptions are essentially inseparable. If we regard sin, then, in this higher theistic light, we will at once see that suffering is its necessary mark of punishment. Asserting itself in opposition to the law of conscience, it thereby directly opposes itself to the righteous will of God, of which that law is the expression, and so provokes His punishment. Existing only as a rebellious infraction of Divine will, it necessarily calls forth 333the Divine wrath. In its very character, wherever it occurs in the universe of God, sin accordingly is, and must be, marked by His displeasure. It must bear the brand of suffering. It must have its doom written on it. And in this point of view, so far is suffering from constituting a valid objection to the Divine goodness, that it is truly a manifestation of that goodness. Rightly viewed, the Divine punishment of sin is merely another side of the Divine goodness. Tor inasmuch as goodness only completes itself in righteousness, were sin or unrighteousness not visited with punitive suffering, the Divine goodness could not be the reality which conscience demands. It might remain a vague and beautiful dream of the imagination; but a goodness which in any respect came short of righteousness would, in the very nature of the case, prove a vanishing shadow—a mere fiction, on which the heart could never rest. Let the one idea be lost sight of, and the other will altogether fail to legitimatise itself, or keep its ground. A goodness which does not rest on justice, and embrace it, would, in the highest meaning of the attribute, be no goodness—our own moral conscience being judge—and would leave, therefore, no real foundation for that happiness in whose behalf it is sometimes emptied of this essential element. In all this view, therefore, the Divine goodness is seen not only to be consistent with, but to be expressly called forth in human suffering as the punishment of sin.

But when we contemplate sin, in its own essential character, as most truly misery, this becomes still further evident. Any other conception we can form of misery is 334poor and trifling in comparison with that which is summed up in the fact of sin itself. The temporary evil of suffering is, therefore, most truly good, when viewed as the chastening of sin, to deliver us from its power. Its bitterness is a direct agency of Divine beneficence, to save us from a darker and more hopeless bitterness. Had sin not thus borne the reprobation of suffering, and man’s sinful progress experienced no check from it, the Divine goodness would undoubtedly have been left in far greater obscurity than it is.

But what of sin itself? What theistic explanation does it admit of? Has not our whole previous train of reasoning been merely a fencing with the outer or accessory difficulties of the subject, while the great difficulty lies here? We are certainly far from concealing that in the comprehensive fact of sin is contained the chief mystery with which we have to deal. We have, on the contrary, all along implied this. It has been our aim simply to show, in reference to human life, how all the difficulties attending the theistic inference run up into this point, and here find their ultimate force. And if, at length, in approaching this point, we find that the light of explanation fails us, or, in other words, find that we cannot at all resolve sin in our process of theistic induction, it may at the same time appear that this arises from its very nature, which is such as compels us to cast it out of the theistic argument, and per se liberates that argument from its injurious burden, mysterious and irresolvable as it may for ever remain. It may be seen that, while this mystery defies all solution, it separates itself by its character from all direct relation to the 335Divine agency. Profound as is the difficulty it involves, it is a difficulty, when rightly understood, not immediately regarding the Divine character (about which its own testimony leaves no doubt), but regarding its human possibility.

Sin, as we have already assumed, is in its essential conception the revolt of the human self against the Divine. Whereas the good consists for us in the harmony of the Divine and the human will, the evil consists essentially in the insurrection of the latter against the former. The soul passes out of the sphere of Divine conformity, and asserts itself in an attitude of opposition to God and to goodness. This is the most radical principle of moral evil. It is this element of rebellious self-will against the Divine law that we specially mean by sin. It expresses itself in many forms, and assumes many characters; but in this element of rebellious self-will they all take their rise. This is the perverted essence which pervades all.

Such being the true character of sin, it must be obvious, in its very definition, that we cannot bring it into inductive relation with the course of our evidence; or, in other words, that we cannot find any argumentative solution of it. For how can we intelligibly relate that to God, whose very essence consists in opposition to Him? How can we explain that which in itself, in its very conception, presents the uttermost contradiction? In order that anything may be capable of explanation, it must exhibit some ground of reason; but here all is unreason. That any creature should revolt against its Creator can only present itself as the most 336awful and unfathomable folly. Sin, therefore, baffles all explanation. Every attempt that has been made to throw any light upon it, or to resolve it inductively, has ended, in the very nature of the case, in denying it.165165   See note at the end of the chapter, where the attempts of this kind most deserving attention are briefly reviewed. All that we can say or know is, that the possibility of sin lies in the fact of human freedom. Man being made free to choose good or evil, the choice of the latter was possible—but further all is darkness; and if we insist for a moment in carrying our logical explanations up into this region, we only plunge into deeper and more hopeless darkness.

But in this very confession of the utter unintelligibility of sin, is not our argument relieved from its difficulty? We cannot give any theistic explanation of it. But why? Because, in its very essence, it is anti-theistic. It is in God’s creation, but it is there as a blot upon it—in direct violation of the Divine order which otherwise prevails. In its nature it wholly separates itself from God, and is, therefore, whatever we may make of it, not entitled to reflect injuriously on the Divine character. A true perception of sin leaves it, indeed, an insoluble difficulty, but is so far from allowing its darkness to rest on the Divine wisdom and goodness, that it is only against the truth of these attributes that its heinousness comes fully into view. It is only its opposition to Divine wisdom and love that makes sin what it is. And to this itself bears witness in its own innermost darkness. In the very act of stamping its atheistic impress upon the soul, it belies its own act; and in its deepest abandonment proclaims 337the reality of the Divine goodness with which it strives. The rebellious self-will which opposes itself to God, yet trembles before Him. It trembles because of its own unquenchable witness to the truth of those perfections which it practically denies. So long as conscience is not utterly extinguished, there arises from the very heart of depravity this irrepressible testimony. This it is, in fact, which—asserting itself against the most persistent godlessness—gives to that godlessness all its direst unrest and misery. The sense of guilt, in its worst agony, is nothing save the consciousness of hostility to Divine wisdom and goodness.

NOTE.

Various theories have professed to expound what is called the origin of evil. The most comprehensive and impartial account of these theories that we know of is to be found in the second book of Dr Julius Müller’s treatise on the Christian doctrine of sin. On a careful examination, one and all of them will be found to explain sin by virtually denying it in its true character. Dr Müller has reckoned them as four, under the several names of the theories of Dualism, of Contrast, of Sense, and of Metaphysical Imperfection. The only two of them that can be said to possess any special interest, or to deserve any special notice, are those of Contrast and of Metaphysical Imperfection. The former derives certain pretensions from its analogy to that compensatory mode of argument which we have pursued in previous chapters. It is, in truth, nothing else than this argument reduced to the palpable contradictoriness that lies in it when pushed to extremity. The latter claims attention from the influential names that have promulgated it, and the manner in which it has been associated with Christian literature. Both, besides, have this special claim upon our notice, that while neither of them can be said any longer to possess vitality as speculative theories, they yet truly live and find utterance in many of our current modes of literary and theological culture.

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In this view we present here a summary of Dr Müller’s exposition of them, which has in some part elsewhere appeared, but which, in relation to the subject of the foregoing chapter, may be interesting to a certain class of readers. It will certainly serve to set forth more clearly the conclusion of that chapter as to the absolute unintelligibility of the evil, and the consequent futility of all attempts to explain it.

The theory of Contrast may be thus stated: Evil, like darkness or cold, is an indispensable element of alternation in human life. All individual reality is only the product of opposite forces working together. Pure light were in itself perfectly colourless—identical, in fact, with darkness: it is only the blending of the various shades of both which gives us actual light. The plant, were it a single power, would not grow: it is only the co-operation of opposite powers which promotes its development. So in man, individuality—character—is only the product of the opposing ethical moments of good and evil. Perfect purity, without flaw, without struggle, would be a mere empty and useless abstraction. All life and energy only arise from the mutual conflict of the positive and negative. In nature we have attraction and repulsion—positive and negative electricity; in ordinary life, pain and pleasure, rest and activity, health and sickness. Take away any of these relative moments, the other would disappear with it. Take away repulsion, there would be no more attraction. Let pain disappear, so would pleasure. Rest is no more rest if it does not spring from activity; and the joy of health is only known through sickness. Why should it be different in the sphere of morals? Here, too, there must be a polarity. Good can only be in contradistinction to the evil. It is only from their interaction that the moral life derives any character and energy. How utterly devoid of interest—how stale, flat, and unprofitable—were our life, were sin entirely to disappear! Where would be all that now in history or romance gives a charm to it? Where would be the passions that now lend to poetry all its power, and to the arts all their witchery?

The relation of this to our previous compensatory mode of argument will be apparent. Whereas, however, that mode of argument is simply made use of by us to show the good which still attends the evil, and seems even to rise out of it—reduced, as it is here, to a logical explanation of moral evil, it secures its object only by destroying the fact to be explained. So far as we have urged the argument, it amounts to this, that the evil is everywhere contingently 339related to the good, and appears in its mere capacity to be so connected with it, that we do not know that we could have had the one, and the other been absolutely excluded. But the present theory not only finds good in the evil, but it makes moral evil an absolute condition of moral goodness. In this view it is not, and cannot be any longer evil. It enters no longer as a spring of disorder, but as a necessary integral into the development of human life. In fact, the good in contrast to the evil is no longer good, but rather evil, and the evil good; for it is only the quickening impulse of the former gives the latter vitality and strength. Without this the good were no reality, but a mere slumbering torpid potentiality. It lies in the last logical results of this theory, therefore, to enthrone the evil as the first principle. It does not depend upon the good, but the good, so far as it is possessed of any living power, depends upon it; or, at any rate, the concrete reality in which they unite is something in which the properly distinctive characters of the two conceptions disappear.

But this theory moreover rests on a special misstatement of the fact in question. It is by no means true that the good, as such, needs the reaction of the evil to attain energy and consistency. No doubt there are, as we have seen, forms of good which we can only imagine in contrast to evil,—nay, there would seem to be, as we formerly expressed it, a richer power of good in the end from the very presence of the evil—but this is something wholly different from recognising, according to the present theory, the good to be absolutely dependent upon the evil, and only to be possessed of activity from co-operation with it. Life and activity are, on the contrary, essential elements of the good in itself. As a creaturely product, it is certainly dependent for its development on the coaction of relative forces, both bodily and mental; but its relation to the evil is still only, even when it derives strength from the relation, one of conflict. It is the very warfare with the evil, and repulsion of it, that imparts strength and higher glory to the good. Every corrupting association of the evil with the good is, therefore, still so far evil, and not good.

The second theory to which we have referred is that which traces moral evil to the Metaphysical Imperfection of human nature. This is especially known as the theory of Leibnitz in his Theodicée, although it really dates from Augustine, and had even, in our own literature, received an elaborate exposition some years before 340the appearance of the Theodicée, in the well-known work of Bishop King. According to this theory, evil is considered to be a mere privation; to be in morals, in short, what cold and darkness are in physics—a pure negation. It is only the perfect or absolute that is positive: all imperfection proceeding from limitation is of a privative or negative character. But God alone is perfect. The creature in his very nature is limited. This limitation shows itself in man, in the presence of error beside truth in his understanding—of pain beside pleasure in his senses. Is it wonderful, then, that in his will this limitation should also manifest itself in the presence of evil beside the good? According to this view, evil takes its rise, not in an efficient cause (causa efficiens), but only in a causa deficiens. God gives the creature his qualities only in so far as they are real and positive; the deficiency does not spring from His will, but from the nature of the thing. God is willing to bestow every perfection in the fullest possible degree, but the receptivity of the creature in its very conception is limited. This limited receptivity has its ultimate ground in the Divine understanding, the region of eternal truth—the forms or ideas of the possible—the sole thing which God has not made, as He is not the author of His own understanding. In this way Leibnitz conceives that he obviates the reference of the evil to God. Every positive faculty of man is to be traced back to God; but the evil, as a mere privation, cannot be so traced. What is good cometh from the strength of God—what is evil, from the torpor of the creature.166166   Theodicée, part i. § 20-33.

It has been shown by Dr Müller that this theory admits in some degree of two interpretations. It may be understood as either deriving sin necessarily out of the original imperfection of the creature, or as only placing the possibility of sin in this imperfection. While some of Leibnitz’s expressions would seem to favour the latter interpretation, there can yet be little doubt, we think, that it was in the former sense he himself meant it to be understood, as in this sense alone can it be said to have any title to be considered a theory of the origin of evil. It was his whole object “to justify the ways of God to man,” and the secret of this justification he undoubtedly believed himself to have found in the conception of evil as necessarily inherent in the limitations of the creature. Evil is a direct and inevitable consequence of these limitations—une suite des limitations précédentes, 341qui sont originairement dans sa creature—so that in creating the world at all, God (so to speak) could not help the admixture of evil in it; inasmuch as it could not be absolutely perfect, it could not be free from evil. But the evil is the least that could have been. The world is the “best of all possible worlds!”

This theory of metaphysical imperfection has been among theologians the most favourite mode of explaining the origin of evil. It took its rise in the case of Augustine, there can be no doubt, from the necessity felt by him of opposing to the Dualistic conception of the Manicheans some solution of the great problem in consistency with the Divine unity and perfections. And it has maintained its place in theology, as seeming to furnish, upon the whole, the solution of this problem most reconcilable with these perfections. Among our latest writers on Natural Theology, Dr Chalmers expounds it with zest, and puts it forward as hypothetically valuable in meeting the cavils of scepticism, although manifesting considerable reluctance to accept it as satisfactory. There are perhaps few more signal examples of the perverting influence of theoretic arbitrariness on theological literature than that which is presented by this theory.

A little examination of it will serve to show this. And first of all, the conception which it presents of sin is in direct contradiction to the moral consciousness. Sin is not the ens privatum which this theory holds it to be; it is, on the contrary, of an essentially positive character. It bears no analogy to any of the other limitations or imperfections which attach to our nature; these are merely the appropriate accidents or conditions of our finite being. But it is, on the other hand, of the very essence of sin that it reveals itself from the first as an element of disorder and opposition within us. If regarded as inherent in the necessary imperfection of our being, we are then reduced to the strange conclusion, that out of the very limitations which go to constitute the conception of the creature there arises a limitation which contradicts this conception. But further, in making sin, as this theory does, the necessary result of the imperfections of our nature, it thereby, no less than all other theories, really destroys it. For sin being necessary, it is no longer morally blamable. If it spring out of the essential limitations of our being, it is no longer a fault, but only a misfortune. In this point of view, too, this theory wholly fails in its attempts to turn aside the reference of sin to God. Granting that this creaturely limitation is the proximate cause, yet this creaturely limitation is only such as the appointment 342of God. There is only a causa deficiens in so far as called into existence by the causa efficiens. Leibnitz’s distinction of understanding and will in the Deity does not really avail to obviate this conclusion, unless the distinction is to be seized in an absolutely dualistic sense.

And if necessary in its origin, sin, according to this theory, must be no less eternal in its duration; inasmuch as the creature can never be absolutely perfect, sin can never wholly disappear. It can still only be a vanishing minimum, as the creature approximates to the perfection of the Creator; and this is an idea which would seem even to have entered into the mind of Leibnitz, in his famous representation of the human spirit as an asymptote of the Divine. Could we conceive the still vanishing limit entirely away, man would be no longer man, but God. It is clear, then, that this theory, pushed to its fair logical results, only escapes Pantheism by making sin eternal. Man only ceases to be a sinner by becoming God. Most singular and instructive coincidence with the latest outrages of German speculation, and the favourite representations of the most seductive school of infidel literature, both in our own country and America! So striking is this coincidence, that in many of the expressions of Emerson, Leibnitz and even sometimes Augustine might be supposed to speak. From quite opposite impulses, but under the same rage for theorising, the modern transcendentalist has reproduced their idea of the evil being simply a deficiency of the good; only he has apprehended, which they did not, this idea in its strict logical consequence—as cutting up by the root the consciousness of guilt, and, in making sin a necessity, annihilating it as a moral fact.

It is this strangely instructive result which enables us to see in the clearest light the fundamental vice of Leibnitz’s theory, and, in fact, of all the theories on our subject. This vice consists in the application of purely logical or inductive conceptions to moral truth, while this truth in its very nature transcends the grasp of logic. It makes itself good in the inner spiritual consciousness, but it cannot be inductively seized and accounted for. The attempt so to seize it necessarily terminates in misapprehending it. It is obvious, for example, that it is such a perverting misapprehension which underlies the whole scope of the present theory. For if it does not confound metaphysical with moral defect, it yet makes the one an inevitable consequence of the other. A relation is thus implied which is wholly inapplicable, between mere perfection of being and perfection of moral 343life. In the former respect, God alone is or can be perfect; in the latter there may be, so far as we know, any variety of relative perfection. Sinlessness has no connection with mere mass of being, but exists entirely in the harmonious proportion between being and the moral laws under which it exists. And in like manner, sin has, and can have, no connection with mere metaphysical limitation or defect of being, but exists entirely in the discordance between it and its proper moral conditions. The two conceptions of good as mere being, and good as moral harmony, are totally and essentially distinct, and nothing but the most hopeless and irretrievable error can arise from their confusion. In the one case it is substance with which we deal,—more or less; in the other it is will,—right or wrong. No circle of thought can ever unite these conceptions, which are absolutely distinguished. We do not say, indeed, that the metaphysical definitions of being and non-being, affirmative and negative, possession and want, have no relation to the investigation of sin; but only that they are totally misapplied when made to express its real and essential principle. And so long as philosophy or theology remains fast bound in such logical abstractions, neither can have any true apprehension of its character, and in attempting to define it can only mistake it. We must rise into a quite different region, and bring into view that mysterious personality, which at once so directly relates man to the Fountain of all life, and yet contains within it the capacity of furthest alienation from Him, before we can reach any genuine perceptions of sin, and apprehend its essential contents. And when we have done this, we will not fail to apprehend, at the same time, how futile must be all attempts to explain the origin of sin, from the very character of the subject in which it takes its rise. All that we can know is, that the possibility of sin lies in the fact of personality; in other words, in the fact of human freedom. And as this fact is wholly inexplicable, so is equally the sin which has sprung from it. As Coleridge has said, with that profound moral insight which so often marks his scattered observations, and renders them so valuable to the Christian student,—“It is a mystery, that is a fact, which we see but cannot explain; and the doctrine (he means of original sin), a truth which we apprehend, but can neither comprehend nor communicate. And such, by the quality of the subject (namely, a responsible will), it must be, if it be a truth at all.”167167   Aids to Reflection, vol. i. p. 730. Pickering. 1848.

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