« PreviousContinue »
suppress what I verily believe is adapted to promote the object for which he laid down his life, I should surely fail of a due compliance with the apostle's exhortation, “ Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.”
If from these preliminary remarks, any one should be led to suspect, that the object of the work is to exhibit mankind as really less guilty than they have been represented to be by the doctrine of total sinfulness by nature, he will be disappointed, or he will fail to understand the ideas which I have aimed to express. For it is my belief that scarcely any doctrine has had greater influence to bewilder the minds of mankind, by confounding things which are properly distinct, than the one which asserts that men are " by nature wholly sinful.” For in this case the phrase “ by nature” is used to express what a person was by generation or birth, antecedent to any act of his own. I am well aware that mankind are capable of being so educated as to have a deep feeling on account of any real or supposed defect or deformity, whether bodily or mental, with which they were born, and which is supposed to have been caused by the sin of Adam, or the sin of their more immediate parents. But such defects or deformities are felt as calamities, not as crimes; and he that is in the habit of accounting for his own voluntary transgressions by ascribing them to a sinful nature, with which he was cursed for Adam's sin, is, in my opinion, in the habit of palliating in some degree his own guilt, whether he is aware of the fact or not.
Sources of man's liability to sin.
The following is the language of Jehovah to a people, who were disposed to cast the blame of their transgressions on him. “ Yet the children of thy people say, The way of the Lord is not equal; but as for them, their way is not equal.” Ezek. xxxiii. 17.
From this language of God to the Israelites, it is very obvious that his thoughts were not as their thoughts, on the subject of man's liability to sin. This liability had existence before the apostacy of Adam, and has been common to his posterity in every age, and in all parts of the world. A condition so universal, and so deeply interesting to all, must probably have occasioned much perplexity to the minds of many good people, and been an occasion of murmuring to those who have been disposed to say, “ The way of the Lord is not equal.”
To vindicate the ways of God to men, is the object of the present inquiry. The purpose is important and delightful; but, in pursuing it, I shall need much of that wisdom which is from above. As men in all ages have come into existence by the agency and providence of God, his character, in one form or another, must have been involved and expressed in their moral condition, their constant liability to sin. This universal liability must, I think, be ascribed either to his benignity in bestowing favors, or to his displeasure.
In regard to the posterity of Adam, it has long been a common opinion among Christians, that liability to sin is the effect of God's displeasure, on account of Adam's transgression; that on this account all the offspring of Adam are brought into the world under God's “ wrath and curse,
” and with a nature so corrupt and sinful, that they are “ free only to do evil.” If this hypothesis were correct, on whom would fall the greater reproach, or the greater share of blame
on men, or their Maker ? God's sovereignty, or his right to do what he will with his own, has often been urged in this case, to vindicate the supposed divine conduct,- and urged too, in a manner shocking to the feelings of benevolent and reflecting men. What would be thought of me at this day, should I attempt to account for man's liability to sin, on the following hypothesis: That when God breathed into Adam the breath of life, he communicated to him a nature wholly sinful; and then established a law of providence that this wicked nature should be transmitted by generation to all his posterity, as a constitutional property? Who would think that this hypothesis might be fairly vindicated on the principle, that God has a right to do what he will with his own ? Would any one be able to see either justice or benevolence in looking at the character of God in such a mirror? But what better than this hypothesis is the one which has long been popular in Christendom?
God was the former of our bodies and the father of our spirits, as truly as he was the creator of Adam and Eve. As we came into the world, we were his workmanship, and not our own. What
then can be the difference, as to the equity of divine conduct towards us, whether Adam was first created with a sinful nature, and transmitted that nature to his offspring by divine decree,- or that he was at first free 'from sin, but on his transgression, God so expressed his displeasure as to curse all his posterity with a sinful nature from their birth? If the latter hypothesis can be vindicated, why not the former? If I was made a sinner prior to any act of my own, by deriving a sinful nature from Adam; what is the difference, as to me, or as to God's conduct towards me, whether Adam was originally created a sinner or not?
But what need is there of resorting to such a dreadful hypothesis, to account for the fact, that Adam's posterity have all been liable to sin, when it is a certain and admitted fact, that it was so with Adam before his apostacy? Had he not been liable to sin, he never would have transgressed. Hence it is clear, that the hypothesis of a derived sinful nature is not necessary to account for universal liability to sin. If we derived from Adam the same animal properties with which he was created, and which rendered him liable to sin, we of course must also be thus liable.
No considerate person will venture to deny, that all the animal and intellectual properties which God bestowed on the first parents of our race, were favors, and the fruits of divine wisdom and benignity. Yet these favors exposed them to temptation, and rendered them liable to sin. If then similar properties have been bestowed as favors on their posterity; what can be more legitimate than
the inferences, that DIVINE BENIGNITY
- not divine displeasure, has been the source of man's liability to sin; and that it is only by abusing the favors of God, that we transgress his commands? This is the hypothesis which I shall attempt to illustrate.
In the formation of the human species, great favors are bestowed, by which they are exposed to temptation, sin and suffering.
What is more common than eyes to see, or the sense of seeing? And how numerous are the temptations to which we are exposed by having good eyes? Millions of human transgressions are occasioned by the sight of the eyes. John, in enumerating the occasions of being led astray, mentions the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the
and the pride of life.” The violations of the seventh, eighth and tenth of the commandments, are commonly occasioned by the sight of the eyes, and the desires thus excited. Yet who will deny that good eyes are a great favor; that by the use of them we derive innumerable pleasures; that they are necessary to usefulness as well as comfort ; and that to be born blind is a great calamity?
Many persons perhaps will here say, that were it not that we possess a sinful nature, we should be in no danger of being led astray by the sight of the eyes. I once so thought, and so reasoned. But reflection led me first to doubt the correctness of the opinion, and finally produced a conviction that it is untrue. I readily admit, that when men have formed habits of sin — which are a kind of second nature, these render them still more liable to be ensnared by the sight of the eyes. But if men were