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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, was sinful. If reason was not developed, the subjection of the will to appetite could not be sinful. 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 any more than a mere brute can be fitted for heaven. The fact that circumcision was required on the eighth 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 parent 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, of course, to hell.
But 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 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 and 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 sayes 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 grace to overcome temptation? And is there no grace in rescuing infants from circumstances. that are certain, if they are left in them, to lead them 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 would re-. sult 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 nonşensical 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 an attribute 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 con-. trary 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 consists 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 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, has come into human nature. He quotes the Formula Concordantiæ 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."
Here, it seems, is sin by itself, and yet not a substance or subsistence-not a part or attribute of soul or body. What can it be? Does it consist in wrong action? No, not in action, but is an accident which inheres fixed in the nature of substance. But what can it be? Not substance, nor yet action. But if it be any thing it must be either substance or action. If it be a state of substance, what is this but substance in a particular state? What a wonder it must be! Who ever saw it? But it is invisible, for it is something nei
ther matter nor spirit-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. I fear that christian men, 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 sinful 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. 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 every where 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. This doctrine naturally and necessarily leads its advocates, secretly at least, to ascribe the atonement of Christ rather to justice than to grace-ta regard it rather as an expedient to relieve the unfortunate than to render the forgiveness of the excuseless sinner possible. The advocates of the theory in question can not 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 from a sinful nature entailed upon him in spite of himself, and from actual transgressions which resulted 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.