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Moral Depravity.

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Professor of Theology in the Oberlin Collegiate Institute.




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 affect 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 responsi

ble 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 hu man 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 ap petite 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

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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 indul gence. 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 de pravity. Previous to moral agency, infants are no more subjects of moral government than brutes are, therefore their suferings and death are to be accounted for as are those of brutes, namely, by ascribing it to violations of the laws of life and death.

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. Again. 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 they ascertain this? Suppose 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

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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 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 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 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 to hell of course.

What grace could there be in saving them from a sinful constitution that is not exercised in saving them from cir

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