PREST. A. MAHAN, AND Prof. C. G. FINNEY.
JAMES M. FITCH
No. 118, NASSAU ST. NEW-YORK,
J. K. WELLMAN.
BY REV. C. G. FINNEY,
Professor of Theology in the Oberlin Collegiate Institute.
HOW MORAL DEPRAVITY IS NOT ACCOUNTED FOR.
1. FURTHER EXAMINATION OF THE ARGUMENTS ADDUCED IN SUPPORT OF THE POSITION THAT HUMAN NATURE IS IN ITSELF SINFUL.
The defenders of the doctrine of constitutional sinfulness or moral depravity urge as a further argument,
That sin is a universal effect of human nature, and therefore, human nature must be itself sinful. Answer. This argument proceeds upon the two false assumptions,
1. That an effect must have the same character as its cause. This assumption, that an effect must have the same character with its cause, is a false assumption. God's will caused the material universe, but it does not follow that the effect is holy as the will of God is holy. God's intention, which was the cause, is holy. But the effect, the material universe, has no character at all, simply because it is an effect. Nothing that is properly an effect can ever, by any possibility, possess a moral character. Again. The universe of mind is an effect of the Divine intention. These minds are not in their substance, and so far as they are effects, holy or sinful. That is, they have in their essence or substance, no moral character whatever, simply because they are effects.
Their moral character is of their own forming. Moral character, universally and necessarily, belongs to voluntary cause and never to an effect. All responsible causality resides in free will. Praise or blame worthiness is strictly predicable only of the agent, never strictly of his actions. The agent who causes his own actions is holy or sinful, is praise or blameworthy, for his intentions and actions. It is not the intention or action that is praise or blameworthy, but the cause or agent that acts. When we say that moral character belongs to the intention, we do not mean that it is the intention itself that deserves praise or blame, but that the agent deserves praise or blame only for his intentions. If, then, choice or intention be regarded as an effect of free will, its cause, let it be understood that the effect strictly speaking is neither praise or blameworthy, but that the agent is alone responsible for the choice of which he is the cause. The argument we are examining is this, "Sin is an effect of human nature therefore human nature is in its essence and substance sinful." This statement is false; but state it thus and it is true. Sin is an attribute of selfish intention. Selfish intention is an effect of free responsible will. Therefore the free responsible cause of this effect is blameworthy for this effect, this sin.
2. The second false assumption upon which the argument we are examining is based, is this, namely: That sin as a universal effect of human nature proves that the substance of human nature must be in itself sinful. This is a non sequiter. Sin may be, and must be an abuse of free agency, and this may be accounted for, as we shall see, by ascribing it to the universality of temptation and does not at all imply a sinful constitution. But if sin implies a sinful nature, how did Adam and Eve sin? Had they a sinful nature to account for, and to cause their first sin? How did angels sin? Had they also a sinful nature? Either sin does not imply a sinful nature, or a nature in itself sinful, or Adam and angels must have had sinful natures before their fall.
Again: if we regard sin as an event or effect. An effect only implies an adequate cause. Free, responsible will is an adequate cause, in the presence of temptation, without the supposition of a sinful constitution, as has been demonstrated in the case of Adam and of Angels. When we have found an adequate cause, it is unphilosophical to look for and assign another.
Again, it is said that no motive to sin could be a motive or a temptation, if there were not a sinful taste, relish or appetite inherent in the constitution to which the temptation or motive is addressed. For example, the presence of food, it is said, would be no temptation to eat, were there not a constitutional appetency terminating on food. So the presence of any object could be no inducement to sin, were there not a constitutional appetency or craving for sin. So that in fact, sin in action were impossible unless there be sin in the nature. To this I reply,
Suppose this objection be applied to the sin of Adam and of Angels? Can we not account for Eve's eating the forbidden fruit without supposing that she had a craving for sin? The Bible informs us that her craving was for the fruit, for knowledge, and not for sin. The words are: "And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her, and he did eat." Here is nothing of a craving for sin. Eating this fruit was indeed sinful, but the sin consisted in consenting to gratify the appetites, not for sin, but for food and knowledge in a prohibited manner. But the advocates of this theory say that there must be an adaptedness in the constitution, a something within answering to the outward motive or temptation, or sin were impossible. This is true. But the question is, What is that something within which responds to the outward motive? Is it a craving for sin? We have just seen what it was in the case of Adam and Eve. It was simply the correlation that existed between the fruit and their constitution, its presence exciting the desires for food and knowledge. This led to prohibited indulgence. This is a short history of the origin of all sin in mankind as we shall see. That is all men sin precisely in the same way. They consent to gratify, not a craving for sin, but a craving for other things, and the consent to make self-gratification an end is the whole of sin. This argument assumes as true, what we have seen on a former occasion to be false, namely, that sinners love sin for its own sake. Sin never is or can be loved for its own sake. If it could, total depravity would of necessity secure perfect blessedness. It would be the very state which the mind supremely loves for its own sake. The sinner could then say, not merely in the language of poetry, but in sober prose and fact, "evil be thou my good."
The Theologians whose views we are canvassing, maintain that the appetites, passions, desires and propensities which are constitutional and entirely involuntary are in themselves sinful. To this I reply, that Adam and Eve possessed them before they fell. Christ possessed them or he was not a man, nor in any proper sense a human being. No, these appetites, passions and propensities are not sinful, though they are the occasions of sin. They are a temptation to the will to seek their unlawful indulgence. When these lusts or appetites are spoken of as the "passions of sin," or as "sinful lust or passions" it is not because they are sinful in themselves, but because they are the occasions of sin.
Again: The death and suffering of infants previous to actual transgression is adduced as an argument to prove that infants have a sinful nature. To this I reply,
1. That this argument must assume that there must be sin wherever there is suffering and death. But this assumption proves too much, as it would prove that mere animals have a sinful nature or have committed actual sin. An argument that proves too much proves nothing.
2. Physical sufferings prove only physical, and not moral depravity. Previous to moral agency, infants are no more subjects of moral government than brutes are, therefore their sufferings and death are to be accounted for as are those of brutes, namely, by ascribing it to violations of the laws of life and health.
Another argument for a sinful constitution is, that unless infants have a sinful nature, they do not need sanctification to fit them for heaven. Answer:
1. This argument assumes that if they are not sinful they must be holy, whereas they are neither sinful nor holy until they are moral agents and render themselves so by obedience or disobedience to the moral law. If they are to go to heaven they must be made holy or must be sanctified.
2. This objection assumes that previous sinfulness is a condition of the necessity of being holy. This is contrary to fact. Were Adam and Angels first sinful before they were sanctified. But it is assumed that unless moral agents are at first sinners they do not need the Holy Spirit to induce them to be holy. That is, unless their nature is sinful, they would become holy without the Holy Spirit. But where do we ascertain this? Suppose that they have no moral character, and that their nature is neither holy nor sinful. Will they become holy without being enlightened by the Holy Spirit? Who will assert that they will?
Again: That infants have a sinful nature has been inferred from the institution of circumcision so early as the 8th day after birth. Circumcision, it is truly urged, was designed to teach the necessity of regeneration, and by way of implication, the doctrine of moral depravity. It is claimed that its being enjoined as obligatory upon the eighth day after birth, was requiring it at the earliest period at which it could be safely performed. From this it is inferred that infants are to be regarded as morally depraved from their birth. In answer to this, I would say,
1. That infant circumcision was doubtless designed to teach the necessity of their being saved by the Holy Spirit from the dominion of the flesh, that the influence of the flesh must be restrained, and the flesh circumcised, or the soul would be lost. This truth needed to be impressed on the parents from the birth of their children. This very significant and bloody and painful rite was well calculated to impress this truth upon parents, and to lead them from their birth to watch over the development and indulgence of their propensities, and to pray for their sanctification. Requiring it at so early a day was no doubt designed to indicate that they are from the first under the dominion of their flesh, without however affording any inference in favor of the idea that their flesh was in itself sinful, or that the subjection of their will, at that early age, to appetite was sinful. If reason was not developed, the subjection of the will to appetite could not but be. But this would not be sin until reason was developed so far as to give the idea of moral obligation. But whether this subjection of the will to the gratification of the appetite was sinful or not, the child must be delivered from it or it could never be fitted for heaven.
The fact that circumcision was required on the 8th day and not before, seems to indicate, not that they are sinners absolutely from birth, but that they very early become so, even from the commencement of moral agency. Again, the rite must be performed at some time. Unless a particular day were appointed it would be very apt to be deferred, and finally not performed at all. It is probable that God commanded that it should be done at the earliest period at which it could be safely done, not only for the reasons already assigned, but to prevent its being neglected too long and perhaps altogether, and perhaps, also, because it would be less painful and dangerous at that early age when the infant slept most of the time and was not able to exercise and endanger life, and also because it is well known that parents are more attached to their children as they grow older, and it would be less painful to the parents to perform the rite when the child was very young than afterwards when it had entwined itself around the parental heart. The longer it was neglected the greater would be the temptation to neglect it altogether. So painful a rite needed to be enjoined by positive statute at some particular time, and it was desirable on all accounts that it should be done as early as it safely could be. This argument for native constitutional moral depravity amounts really to nothing.
Again, it is urged that unless infants have a sinful nature, should they die in infancy, they could not be saved by the grace of Christ. To this I answer, that in this case they would not go to hell of course.
What grace could there be in saving them from a sinful constitution that is not exercised in saving them from circumstances that would certainly result in their becoming sinners, if not snatched from them. In neither case do they need pardon for sin. Grace is unearned favor, a gratuity. If the child has a sinful nature it is his misfortune, and not his crime. To save him from this nature is to save him from those circumstances that will certainly result in actual transgression unless he is rescued by death and by the Holy Spirit. So if his nature is not sinful, yet it is certain that his nature and circumstances are such that he will surely sin unless rescued by death or by the Holy Spirit before he is capable of sinning. It certainly must be an infinite favor to be rescued from such circumstances, and especially to have eternal life conferred as a mere gratuity. This surely is grace. And as they belong to a race of sinners who are all, as it were, turned over into the hands of Christ, they doubtless will ascribe their salvation to the infinite grace of Christ.
Again. Is it not grace that saves us from sinning? What then is it but grace that saves infants from sinning by snatching them away from circumstances of temptation? In what way does grace save adults from sinning but by keeping them from temptation, or by giving them grace to overcome temptation? And is there no grace in rescuing infants from circumstances that are certain, if left in them, to lead the child into sin?
All that can be justly said in either case is that if infants are saved at all, (which I suppose they are,) they are rescued by the benevolence of God from circumstances that will result in certain and eternal death, and made heirs of eternal life. But after all it is useless to speculate about the character and destiny of those who are confessedly not moral agents. The benevolence of God will take care of them. It is nonsensical to insist upon their moral depravity before they are moral agents, and it is equally frivolous to assert that they must be morally depraved as a condition of their being saved by grace.
We deny that the human constitution is morally depraved,
1. Because there is no proof of it.
2. Because it is impossible that sin should be a quality of the substance of soul or body. It is and must be an attribute of choice or intention and not of substance.
3. To make sin an attribute or quality of substance is contrary to God's definition of sin. Sin, says the apostle, is "anomia," a "transgression of, or a want of conformity to the moral law." That is, it consists in a refusal to love God and our neighbor, or, which is the same thing, in loving ourselves supremely.
4. To represent the constitution as sinful is to represent God, who is the author of the constitution, as the author of sin. To say that God is not the direct former of the constitution, but that sin is conveyed by natural generation from Adam who made himself sinful, is only to remove the objection one step farther back, but not to obviate it; for God established the physical laws that of necessity bring about this result.
5. But how came Adam by a sinful nature? Did his first sin change his nature? or did God change it as a penalty for sin? What ground is there for the assertion that Adam's nature became in itself sinful by the fall? This is a groundless, not to say ridiculous assumption and a flat absurdity. Sin an attribute of nature! A sinful substance! Sin a substance! Is it a solid, a fluid, a material or a spiritual substance?
I have received the following note from a brother on this subject:
"The orthodox creeds are in some cases careful to say that original sin consist in the substance of neither soul nor body. Thus Bretschneider, who is reckoned among the rationalists in Germany, says: "The Symbolical Books very rightly maintained that original sin is not in any sense the substance of man, his body or his soul, as Flacius taught,--but that it has been infused into human nature by Satan, and mixed with it, as poison and wine are mixed."
They rather expressly guard against the idea that they mean by the phrase "man's nature," his substance, but somewhat which is fixed in the substance. They explain original sin, therefore, not as an essential attribute of man, that is, a necessary and essential part of his being, but as an accident, that is, somewhat which does not subsist in itself, but as something accidental that has come into human nature. He quotes the Formula Concordantia as saying: "Nature does not denote the substance itself of man, but something which inheres fixed in the nature or substance." Accident is defined, "what does not subsist by itself, but is in some substance and can be distinguished from it."
To this I answer, what does it mean? Here it seems is sin as a substance by itself, not a part nor an attribute of soul or body. But is this a created substance? or is it a self-existent substance? What a wonder it must be! Who ever saw this substance? Or is it an invisible and intangible substance? A virus, a poison mixed with, yet distinct from the constitution. Do these writers think by this subtility to relieve the subject of constitutional moral depravity of its intrinsic absurdity? If so, they are greatly mistaken, for really they only render it more absurd and ridiculous. What! sin a substance by itself!--a sui generis, no doubt. Was it created by God, or by Adam, or by Satan, or has it been forced into being by some monstrous error in the processes of nature? Has it the attributes of a material or a spiritual substance? or is this unknown? How is it ascertained that it is a substance separate from both body and mind, and that it is a substance at all? I fear that christian men and even doctors of divinity will never be ashamed to vindicate this ridiculous absurdity, until some master hand shall so expose it as to make a man blush at the folly of asserting it.
6. I object to the doctrine of constitutional sinfulness that it makes all sin, original and actual, a mere calamity and not a crime. To call it a crime is to talk nonsense. What, a sinful nature the crime of him upon whom it is entailed without his knowledge or consent! If the nature is sinful in such a sense that action must be , which is the doctrine of the confession of faith, then sin in action must be a calamity, and can be no crime? It is the necessary effect of a sinful nature. This can not be a crime.
7. This doctrine represents sin as a disease and obedience to law impossible until the nature is changed by a sovereign and physical agency of the Holy Spirit in which the subject is passive.
8. Of course it must render repentance, either with or without the grace of God impossible unless grace set aside our reason. If repentance implies self-condemnation we can never repent in the exercise of our reason. Constituted as we are, it is impossible that we should condemn ourselves for a sinful nature or for actions that are unavoidable. The doctrine of original sin, or of a sinful constitution and of necessary sinful actions represents the whole moral government of God--the plan of salvation by Christ, and indeed every doctrine of the gospel as a mere farce, and as the veriest humbug that ever insulted and mocked the intelligence of man. Upon this supposition the law is tyranny, and the gospel an insult to the unfortunate.
9. Again. This doctrine represents sin as being of two kinds: original or constitutional and actual--sin of substance and sin of action; whereas neither the Bible nor common sense acknowledges but one kind of sin, and that consists in disobedience to the law.
10. This doctrine represents a sinful nature as the physical cause of actual sin.
11. It acknowledges a kind of sin of which no notice will be taken at the judgment. The bible everywhere represents the deeds done in the body, and not the constitution itself, as the only things to be brought into judgment.
12. It necessarily begets a self-justifying and God-condemning spirit. Man must cease to be a reasonable being, and give himself up to the most ridiculous imaginations before he can blame himself for Adam's sin, as some have professed to do, or before he can blame himself for possessing a sinful nature, or for sins that unavoidably resulted from a sinful nature.
13. This doctrine necessarily leads its advocates rather to pity and excuse sinners than unqualifiedly to blame them.
14. It is difficult and, indeed impossible for those who really believe this doctrine to urge immediate repentance and submission on the sinner, feeling that he is infinitely to blame unless he instantly comply. It is a contradiction to affirm that a man can heartily believe in the doctrine in question and yet truly and heartily blame sinners for not doing what is naturally impossible to them. The secret conviction must be in the mind of such an one that the sinner is not really to blame for being a sinner. For in fact if this doctrine is true he is not to blame for being a sinner any more than he is to blame for being a human being. This the advocate of this doctrine must know. It is vain for him to set up the pretence that he truly blames sinners for their nature, or for their conduct that was unavoidable. He can not do it any more than he can honestly deny the necessary affirmations of his own reason. Therefore the advocates of this theory must merely hold it as a theory without believing it, or they must in their secret conviction excuse the sinner.
15. Again. It naturally and necessarily leads its advocates, secretly at least, to ascribe the atonement of Christ rather to justice than to grace--rather as an expedient to relieve the unfortunate than to render the forgiveness of the inexcusable sinner possible. The advocates of the theory in question cannot but regard the case of the sinner as rather a hard one, and God as under an obligation to provide a way for him to escape a sinful nature entailed upon him in spite of himself, and from actual transgressions which result from his nature by a law of necessity. If all this is true, the sinner's case is infinitely hard, and God would be the most unreasonable and cruel of beings if he did not provide for their escape. These convictions will and must lodge in the mind of him who really believes the dogma of a sinful nature. This in substance is sometimes affirmed by the defenders of the doctrine of original sin.
16. This doctrine is a stumbling-block both to the church and the world--infinitely dishonorable to God, and an abomination alike to God and the human intelligence, and should be banished from every pulpit and from every formula of doctrine, and from the world, it is a relic of heathen philosophy, and was foisted in among the doctrines of Christianity by Augustine, as every one may know who will take the trouble to examine for himself. Who does not know that this view of moral depravity that I am opposing, has long been the stronghold of Universalism? From it they have inveighed with resistless force against the idea that sinners would be sent to an eternal hell. Assuming the long defended doctrine of original or constitutional sinfulness, they proceed to show that it were infinitely unreasonable and unjust in God to send them to hell. What, create them with a sinful nature from which proceed by a law of necessity actual transgressions, and then send them to an eternal hell for having this nature, and for transgressions that are unavoidable! Impossible! they say, and the human intellect responds, Amen.
From the dogma of a sinful nature or constitution also has naturally and irresistibly flowed the doctrine of inability to repent, and the necessity of a physical regeneration. These too have been a sad stumbling block to Universalists as every one knows who is at all acquainted with the history of Universalism. They infer the salvation of all men from the fact of God's benevolence and physical omnipotence! God is Almighty, and he is love. Men are constitutionally depraved, and are unable to repent. God will not, can not send them to hell. They do not deserve it. Sin is a calamity, and God can save them, and he ought to do so. This is the substance of their argument. And, assuming the truth of their premises, there is no evading their conclusion. But the whole argument is built on "such stuff as dreams are made of." Strike out the ridiculous dogma of a sinful nature, and the whole edifice comes to the ground in a moment.
II. The proper method of accounting for Moral Depravity.
The term "Moral" is from the Latin Mos--manners. The term "Depravity," as has been shown, is from De and Pravus--crooked. The terms united, signify crooked manners, or bad morals. In this discussion I must,
1. Remind you of some positions that have been settled respecting Moral Depravity.
2. Consult the oracles of God respecting the nature of Moral Depravity, or Sin.
3. Consult the oracles of God in respect to the proper method of accounting for the existence of sin.
4. Show the manner in which it is to be accounted for as an ultimate fact.
1. Some positions that have been settled.
(1.) It has been shown that moral depravity resolves itself into selfishness.
(2.) That selfishness consists in the supreme choice of self-indulgence.
(3.) That self-indulgence consists in the committal of the will to the gratification of the sensibility, as opposed to obeying the law of the reason.
(4.) That sin or moral depravity is a unit, and always consists in this committed state of the will to self-gratification, irrespective of the particular form or means of self-gratification.
(5.) It has also been shown that Moral Depravity does not consist in a sinful nature.
(6.) And also that actual transgression can not justly be ascribed to a sinful constitution.
(7.) We have also seen that all sin is actual, and that no other than actual transgression can justly be called sin.
II. Consult the oracles of God respecting the nature of Moral Depravity or sin.
Reference has often been made to the teachings of inspiration upon this subject. But it is important to review our ground in this place, that we may ascertain what are the teachings, and what are the assumptions of the bible in regard to the nature of sin. Does the bible purposely define sin? Does it assume that as truth, which natural theology teaches upon this subject. What is taught in the bible, either expressly, or by way of inference and implication upon this subject?
1. The bible gives a formal definition of sin. 1 Jno 3: 4, Sin is a transgression of the law, and 5: 17, All unrighteousness is sin. As was remarked on a former occasion, this definition is not only an accurate one, but is the only one that can possibly be true.
(2.) The bible every where makes the law the only standard of right and wrong, and obedience to it to be the whole of virtue, and disobedience to it to be the whole of sin. This truth lies every where upon the face of the bible. It is taught, assumed, implied or expressed on every page of the bible.
(3.) It holds men responsible for their voluntary actions alone, or more strictly for their choices alone, and expressly affirms that "if there be a willing mind, it is accepted according to what a man hath, and not according to what he hath not." That is, willing as God directs is accepted as obedience, whether we are able to execute our choices or not.
(4.) The Bible always represents sin as something done or committed or wilfully omitted, and never as a part or attribute of soul or body. We have seen that the texts that have been relied on as teaching the doctrine of constitutional sinfulness, when rightly understood, mean no such thing.
(5.) The Bible assures us that all sin shall pass in review at the solemn judgment, and always represents all sin then to be recognized, as consisting in "the deeds done in the body",[sic.] Texts that support these assertions are too numerous to need to be quoted, as every reader of the bible knows.
3. Consult the bible in respect to the proper method of accounting for moral depravity, or sin.
(1.) We have more than once seen that the bible has given us the history of the introduction of sin into our world, and that from the narrative, it is plain that the first sin consisted in selfishness, or in consenting to indulge the excited constitutional propensities in a prohibited manner. In other words, it consisted in yielding the will to the impulses of the sensibility, instead of abiding by the law of God as revealed in the intelligence. Thus the bible ascribes the first sin of our race to the influence of temptation.
(2.) The bible once, and only once, incidentally intimates that Adam's first sin has in some way been the occasion (not the cause) of all the sins of men. Rom. 5: 12--19.
(3.) It neither says nor intimates any thing in relation to the manner in which Adam's sin has occasioned this result. It only incidentally recognizes the fact, and then leaves it just as if the quo modo was too obvious to need explanation.
(4.) In other parts of the bible we are informed how we are to account for the existence of sin among men. For example, James 1: 15. When lust (desire epethamia [sic.]) has conceived, it bringeth forth sin. Here sin is represented, not as the desire, but as consisting in the consent of the will to gratify the desire.
James says again that a man is tempted when he is drawn aside of his own lusts, (epithumias, desires) and enticed. That is, his lusts or the impulses of his sensibility are his tempters. When he is overcome of these, he sins.
(5.) Paul and other inspired writers represent sin as consisting in a carnal or fleshly mind. In the mind of the flesh, or in minding the flesh. It is plain that by the term flesh they mean what we understand by the sensibility as opposed to the intelligence. And that they represent sin as consisting in obeying, minding the impulses of the sensibility. They represent the world and the flesh and Satan as the three great sources of temptation. It is plain that the world and Satan tempt by appeals to the flesh or to the sensibility. Hence the apostles have much to say of the necessity of the destruction of the flesh, of the mortification of the flesh of the members, of putting off the old man with his deeds &c. Now, it is worthy of remark that all this painstaking on the part of inspiration to intimate the source from whence our sin proceeds, and to apprise us of the proper method of accounting for it, and also of avoiding it, has led certain philosophers and theologians to take a view of it which is directly opposed to the truth. Because so much is said of the influence of the flesh, they have inferred that the nature and physical constitution of man is itself sinful. But the representations of Scripture are that the body is the occasion of sin. The law in his members, that warred against the law of his mind, of which Paul speaks, is manifestly the impulses of the sensibility opposed to the law of the reason. This law, that is, the impulse of his sensibility, bring him into captivity, that is, influences his will, in spite of all his resolutions to the contrary.
In short, the bible rightly interpreted, every where assumes and implies that sin consists in selfishness. It is remarkable, if the bible be read with an eye to its teachings and assumptions on this point, to what an extent this truth will appear.
(4.) How moral depravity is to be accounted for.
(1.) It consists, remember, in the committal of the will to the gratification or indulgence of self; in the will's following or submitting itself to be governed by the impulses and desires of the sensibility instead of submitting itself to the law of the intelligence.
(2.) This definition of the thing shows how it is to be accounted for, namely: the sensibility acts as a powerful impulse to the will from the moment of birth, and secures the consent and activity of the will to procure its gratification, before the reason is at all developed. The will is thus committed to the gratification of feeling and appetite, when first the idea of moral obligation is developed. This committed state of the will is not moral depravity, and has no moral character until the idea of moral obligation is developed. The moment this last idea is developed, this committal of the will to self-indulgence must be abandoned or it becomes selfishness, or moral depravity. But as the will is already in a state of committal, and has to some extent already formed the habit of seeking to gratify feeling, and as the idea of moral obligation is at first but feebly developed, unless the Holy Spirit interferes to shed light on the soul, the will, as might be expected, retains its hold on self-gratification. Here alone moral character does and must commence. Let it be remembered that selfishness consists in the supreme and ultimate choice, or in the preference of self-gratification as an end, or for its own sake, over all other interests. Now, as the choice of an end implies and includes the choice of the means, Selfishness of course, causes all that outward life and activity that makes up the entire history of sinners.
This selfish choice is the wicked heart--the sinful nature--the propensity to sin--the sinful appetite--the craving for sin, and all that causes what is generally termed actual transgression. This sinful choice, is properly enough called indwelling sin. It is the latent, standing, controlling preference of the mind, and the cause of all the outward and active life. It is not the choice of sin but the choice of self-gratification, which choice is sin.
Again. It should be remembered that the physical depravity of our race has much to do with our moral depravity. A diseased physical system renders the appetites, passions, temper, and propensities more clamorous and despotic in their demands and of course confirms and strengthens selfishness. It should be distinctly understood that physical depravity has no moral character in itself. But yet it is a source of fierce temptation to selfishness. The human sensibility is manifestly deeply physically depraved, and as sin or moral depravity consists in committing the will to the gratification of the sensibility, its physical depravity will mightily strengthen moral depravity. Moral depravity is then universally owing to temptation. That is, the soul is tempted to self-indulgence, and yields to the temptation, and this yielding, and not the temptation, is sin or moral depravity. This is manifestly the way in which Adam and Eve became morally depraved.--They were tempted, even by undepraved appetite, to prohibited indulgence, and were overcome. The sin did not lie in the constitutional desire of food, or of knowledge, nor in the excited state of these appetites or desires, but in the consent of the will to prohibited indulgence.
Just in the same way all sinners become such, that is, they become morally depraved, by yielding to temptation--to self-gratification under some form. Indeed it is impossible that they should become morally depraved in any other way. To deny this were to overlook the very nature of moral depravity. It is remarkable that President Edwards, after writing five hundred pages, in which he confounds physical and moral depravity, in answer to an objection of Dr. Taylor of England, that his view made God the author of the constitution, the author also of sin, turns immediately round, and without seeming to see his own inconsistency, ascribes all sin to temptation, and makes it consist altogether in obeying the propensities, just as I have done.
"One argument against a supposed native, sinful depravity, which Dr. Taylor greatly insists upon, is, "that this does in effect charge him, who is the author of our nature, who formed us in the womb, with being the author of a sinful corruption of nature; and that it is highly injurious to the God of our nature, whose hands have formed and fashioned us, to believe our nature to be originally corrupted and that in the worst sense of corruption."
With respect to this, I would observe, in the first place, that this writer, in handling this grand objection, supposes something to belong to the doctrine objected against, as maintained by the divines whom he is opposing, which does not belong to it, nor follow from it. As particularly, he supposes the doctrine of original sin to imply, that nature must be corrupted by some positive influence; "something, by some means or other, infused into the human nature; some quality or other, not from the choice of our minds, but like a taint, tincture, or infection, altering the natural constitution, faculties, and dispositions of our souls! That sin and evil dispositions are implanted in the ftus in the womb. "Whereas truly our doctrine neither implies nor infers any such thing. In order to account for a sinful corruption of nature, yea, a total native depravity of the heart of man, there is not the least need of supposing any evil quality infused, implanted, or wrought into the nature of man, by any positive cause or influence whatsoever, either from God, or the creature; or of supposing that man is conceived and born with a fountain of evil in his heart, such as is any thing properly positive. I think a little attention to the nature of things will be sufficient to satisfy any impartial, considerate inquirer, that the absence of positive good principles, and so the withholding of a special divine influence to impart and maintain those good principles--leaving the common natural principles of self-love, natural appetite, &c. to themselves, without the government of superior divine principles will certainly be followed with the corruption; yea, the total corruption of the heart, without occasion for any positive influence at all: And that it was thus in fact, that corruption of nature came on Adam, immediately on his fall, and comes on all his posterity as sinning in him and falling with him.
The case with man was plainly this: When God made man at first he implanted in him two kinds of principles. There was an inferior kind which may be natural, being the principles of mere human nature; such as self-love, with those natural appetites and passions, which belong to the nature of man, in which his love to his own liberty, honor, and pleasure were exercised. These, when alone, and left to themselves, are what the scriptures sometimes call flesh. Besides these, there were superior principles, that were spiritual, holy, and divine, summarily comprehended in divine love; wherein consisted the spiritual image of God, and man's righteousness and true holiness; which are called in scripture the divine nature. These principles may, in some sense, be called supernatural, being (however concreated or connate, yet) such as are above those principles that are essentially implied in, or necessarily resulting from, and inseparably connected with, mere human nature: and being such as immediately depend on man's union and communion with God, or divine communications and influences of God's Spirit, which though withdrawn, and man's nature forsaken of these principles, human nature would be human nature still; man's nature, as such, being entire without these divine principles, which the scripture sometimes calls spirit, in contradistinction to flesh. These superior principles were given to possess the throne, and maintain absolute dominion in the heart; the other to be wholly subordinate and subservient. And while things continued thus, all was in excellent order, peace, and beautiful harmony, and in a proper and perfect state. These divine principles thus reigning, were the dignity, life, happiness, and glory of man's nature. When man sinned and broke God's covenant, and fell under curse, these superior principles left his heart: for indeed God then left him; that communion with God on which these principles depended, entirely ceased; the Holy Spirit that divine inhabitant, forsook the house. Because it would have been utterly improper in itself, and inconsistent with the constitution God had established, that he should still maintain communion with man, and continue by his friendly, gracious, vital, influences, to dwell with him and in him, after he was become a rebel and had incurred God's wrath and curse. Therefore immediately the superior divine principles wholly ceased; so light ceases in a room when the candle is withdrawn; and thus man was left in a state of darkness, woeful corruption and ruin; nothing but flesh without spirit. The inferior principles of self-love and natural appetite which were given only to serve, being alone, and left to themselves, of course became reigning principles; having no superior principles to regulate or control them, they became the absolute masters of the heart. The immediate consequence of which was a fatal catastrophe, a turning of all things upside down, and the succession of a state of the most odious and dreadful confusion. Man immediately set up himself, and the objects of his private affections and appetites, as supreme, and so they took the place of God. These inferior principles are like fire in a house; which we say is a good servant, but a bad master; very useful while kept in its place, but if left to take possession of the whole house, soon brings all to destruction. Man's love to his own honor, separate interests, and private pleasure, which before was wholly subordinate unto love to God and regard to his authority and glory, now disposes and impels him to pursue those objects, without regard to God's honor, or law; because there is no true regard to these divine things left in him. In consequence of which, he seeks those objects as much when against God's honor and law, as when agreeable to them. God still continuing strictly to require supreme regard to himself, and forbidding all undue gratification of these inferior passions--but only in perfect subordination to the ends, and agreeableness to the rules and limits, which his holiness, honor, and law prescribe--hence immediately arises enmity in the heart, now wholly under the power of self-love; and nothing but war ensures, in a course against God. As when a subject has once renounced his lawful sovereign, and set up a pretender in his stead, a state of enmity and war against his rightful king necessarily ensues. It were easy to show, how every lust, and depraved disposition of man's heart, would naturally arise from this privative original, if here were room for it. Thus it is easy to give an account, how total corruption of heart should follow on man's eating the forbidden fruit, though that was but one act of sin, without God putting any evil into his heart, or implanting any bad principle, or infusing any corrupt taint, and so becoming the author of depravity.--Only God's withdrawing, as it was highly proper and necessary that he should, from rebel man, and his natural principles being left to themselves, is sufficient to account for his becoming entirely corrupt, and bent on sinning against God.
And as Adam's nature became corrupt, without God's implanting or infusing of any evil thing into it; so does the nature of his posterity. God dealing with Adam as the head of his posterity, (as has been shown) and treating them as one, he deals with his posterity as having all sinned in him. And therefore, as God withdrew spiritual communion, and his vital, gracious influence from all the members, as they come into existence; whereby they come into the world mere flesh, and entirely under the government of natural and inferior principles; and so become wholly corrupt, as Adam did."--Edwards' Works, pp. 532-538.
To sum up the truth upon this subject in few words, I would say,
1. Moral depravity in our first parents was induced by temptation addressed to the unperverted susceptibilities of their nature. When these susceptibilities became strongly excited, they overcame the will; that is, the human pair were over persuaded and fell under the temptation. This has been repeatedly said, but needs repetition in a summing up.
2. All moral depravity commences in substantially the same way. Proof,
(1.) The impulses of the sensibility are developed at birth.
(2.) The first acts of will are obedience to these.
(3.) Self-gratification is the rule of action previous to the development of reason.
(4.) No resistance is offered to the will's indulging appetite until a habit of self-indulgence is formed.
(5.) When reason affirms moral obligation, it finds the will in a state of habitual and constant committal to the impulses of the sensibility.
(6.) The demands of the sensibility have become more and more despotic every hour of indulgence.
(7.) In this state of things unless the Holy Spirit interpose the idea of moral obligation will be but dimly developed.
(8.) The will of course rejects the bidding of reason and cleaves to self-indulgence.
(9.) This is the settling of a fundamental question. It is deciding in favor of appetite against the claims of conscience and of God.
(10.) Light once rejected can be thereafter more easily resisted.
(11.) Selfishness confirms and strengthens and perpetuates itself by a natural process. It grows with the sinner's growth and strengthens with his strength, and will do so forever unless overcome by the Holy Spirit through the truth.
1. Adam, being the natural head of the race, would naturally by the wisest constitution of things, greatly affect for good or evil his whole posterity.
2. His sin in many ways exposed his posterity to aggravated temptation. Not only the physical constitution of all men, but all the influences under which they first form their moral character are widely different from what they would have been, if sin had never been introduced.
3. When selfishness is understood to be the whole of moral depravity, its quo modo is manifest. Clear conceptions of the thing will instantly reveal the occasion and manner.
4. The only difficulty in accounting for it has been the false assumption that there must be and is something back of the free actions of the will, which sustains to those actions the relation of a cause that is itself sinful.
5. If holy Adam and holy Angels could fall under temptations addressed to their undepraved sensibility, how absurd it is to conclude that sin in infants who are born with a physically depraved constitution, cannot be accounted for, without ascribing it to original sin, or to a nature that is in itself sinful.
6. Without Divine illumination the moral character will of course be formed under the influence of the flesh. That is, the lower propensities will of course influence the will, unless the intelligence be developed by the Holy Spirit, as was said by President Edwards in the extract just quoted.
7. The dogma of constitutional moral depravity is a part and parcel of the doctrine of a necessitated will. It is a branch of a grossly false and heathenish philosophy. How infinitely absurd, dangerous and unjust then to embody it in a standard of Christian doctrine. To give it the place of an indispensable article of faith, and denounce all who will not swallow its absurdities, as heretics. O, Shame!
8. We are unable to say precisely at what age infants become moral agents, and of course how early they become sinners. Doubtless there is much difference among children in this respect. Reason is developed in one earlier than in another, according to the constitution and education.
9. Those who maintain the sinfulness of the constitutional appetites, must of course deny that men can ever be entirely sanctified in this life, and must maintain as they do that death must complete the work of sanctification.
10. False notions of moral depravity lie at the foundation of all the objections I have seen to the doctrine of entire sanctification in this life.
11. A diseased nervous system is a fierce temptation. Some forms of disease expose the soul to much trial. Dispeptic and nervous persons need superabounding grace.
12. Why sin is so natural to mankind. Not because their nature is itself sinful, but because the appetites and passions tend so strongly to self-indulgence. Besides selfishness being the ruling passion of the soul, its manifestations are spontaneous.
13. The doctrine of original sin as held by its advocates must essentially modify the whole system of practical theology. This will be seen as we proceed in our investigations.
14. The constitution of a moral being as a whole when all the powers are developed, does not tend to sin, but strongly in an opposite direction, as is manifest from the fact that when reason is thoroughly developed by the Holy Spirit, it is more than a match for the sensibility and turns the heart to God.
15. The difficulty is that the sensibility gets the start of reason and engages the attention in devising means of self-gratification, and thus retards, and in a great measure prevents the development of the ideas of the reason which were designed to control the will.
16. It is this morbid development that the Holy Spirit is given to rectify, by so forcing truth upon the attention, as to secure the development of the intelligence. By doing this He brings the will under the influence of truth. Our senses reveal to us the objects correlated to our animal nature and propensities. The Holy Spirit reveals God and the spiritual world, and all that class of objects that are correlated to our higher nature as to give Reason the control of the will. This is regeneration and sanctification as we shall see in its proper place.
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