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7. Does the Bible anywhere recognize a justification in sin? Where is such a passage to be found? Does not the law condemn sin, in every degree of it? Does it not unalterably condemn the sinner in whose heart the vile abomination is found? If a soul can sin, and yet not be condemned, then it must be because the law is abrogated, for surely, if the law still remains in force, it must condemn all sin. James most unequivocally teaches this: "If any man keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all" (James 2:10). What is this but asserting, that if there could be a partial obedience, it would be unavailing, since the law would condemn for any degree of sin; that partial obedience, did it exist, would not be regarded as acceptable obedience at all? The doctrine, that a partial obedience, in the sense that the law is not at any time fully obeyed, is accepted of God, is sheer antinomianism. What! A sinner justified while indulging in rebellion against God!
But it has been generally held in the church, that a sinner must intend fully to obey the law, as a condition of justification; that, in his purpose and intention, he must forsake all sin; that nothing short of perfection of aim or intention can be accepted of God. Now, what is intended by this language? We have seen in former lectures, that moral character belongs properly only to the intention. If, then, perfection of intention be an indispensable condition of justification, what is this, but an admission, after all, that full present obedience is a condition of justification? But this is what we hold, and they deny. What then can they mean? It is of importance to ascertain what is intended by the assertion, repeated by them thousands of times, that a sinner cannot be justified but upon condition that he fully purposes and intends to abandon all sin, and to live without sin; unless he seriously intends to render full obedience to all the commands of God. Intends to obey the law! What constitutes obedience to the law? Why, love, good willing, good-intending. Intending to obey the law is intending to intend, willing to will, choosing to choose! This is absurd.
What then is the state of mind which is, and must be, the condition of justification? Not merely an intention to obey, for this is only an intending to intend, but intending what the law requires to be intended, to wit, the highest well-being of God and of the universe. Unless he intends this, it is absurd to say that he can intend full obedience to the law; that he intends to live without sin. The supposition is, that he is now sinning; that is, for nothing else is sin, voluntarily withholding from God and man their due. He chooses, wills, and intends this, and yet the supposition is, that at the same time he chooses, wills, intends, fully to obey the law. What is this but the ridiculous assertion, that he at the same time intends full obedience to the law, and intends not fully to obey, but only to obey in part, voluntarily withholding from God and man their dues.
But again, to the question, can man be justified while sin remains in him? Surely he cannot, either upon legal or gospel principles, unless the law be repealed. That he cannot be justified by the law, while there is a particle of sin in him, is too plain to need proof. But can he be pardoned and accepted, and then justified, in the gospel sense, while sin, any degree of sin, remains in him? Certainly not. For the law, unless it be repealed, continues to condemn him while there is any degree of sin in him. It is a contradiction to say, that he can both be pardoned, and at the same time condemned. But if he is all the time coming short of full obedience, there never is a moment in which the law is not uttering its curses against him. "Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law to do them" (Gal. 3:10). The fact is, there never has been, and there never can be, any such thing as sin without condemnation. "Beloved, if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart" (1 John 3:20), that is, He much more condemns us. "But if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence towards God" (1 John 3:21). God cannot repeal the law. It is not founded in His arbitrary will. It is as unalterable and unrepealable as His own nature. God can never repeal nor alter it. He can for Christ's sake dispense with the execution of the penalty, when the subject has returned to full present obedience to the precept, but in no other case, and upon no other possible conditions. To affirm that He can, is to affirm that God can alter the immutable and eternal principles of moral law and moral government.
To repent is to change the choice, purpose, intention. It is to choose a new end, to begin a new life, to turn from self seeking to seeking the highest good of being, to turn from selfishness to disinterested benevolence, from a state of disobedience to a state of obedience. Certainly, if repentance means and implies anything, it does imply a thorough reformation of heart and life. A reformation of heart consists in turning from selfishness to benevolence. We have seen in a former lecture, that selfishness and benevolence cannot coexist, at the same time, in the same mind. They are the supreme choice of opposite ends. These ends cannot both be chosen at the same time. To talk of partial repentance as a possible thing is to talk nonsense. It is to overlook the very nature of repentance. What! A man both turn away from, and hold on to sin at the same time! Serve God and mammon at one and the same time! It is impossible. This impossibility is affirmed both by reason and by Christ. But perhaps it will be objected, that the sin of those who render but a partial obedience, and whom God pardons and accepts, is not a voluntary sin. This leads to the inquiry:
9. Can there be any other than voluntary sin?
What is sin? Sin is a transgression of the law. The law requires benevolence, good willing. Sin is not a mere negation, or a not willing, but consists in willing self-gratification. It is a willing contrary to the commandment of God. Sin, as well as holiness, consists in choosing, willing, intending. Sin must be voluntary; that is, it must be intelligent and voluntary. It consists in willing, and it is nonsense to deny that sin is voluntary. The fact is, there is either no sin, or there is voluntary sin. Benevolence is willing the good of being in general, as an end, and, of course, implies the rejection of self-gratification, as an end. So sin is the choice of self-gratification, as an end, and necessarily implies the rejection of the good of being in general, as an end. Sin and holiness, naturally and necessarily, exclude each other. They are eternal opposites and antagonists. Neither can consist with the presence of the other in the heart. They consist in the active state of the will, and there can be no sin or holiness that does not consist in choice.
10. Must not present sin be sin unrepented of?
Yes, it is impossible for one to repent of present sin. To affirm that present sin is repented of, is to affirm a contradiction. It is overlooking both the nature of sin, and the nature of repentance. Sin is selfish willing; repentance is turning from selfish to benevolent willing. These two states of will, as has just been said, cannot possibly coexist. Whoever, then, is at present falling short of full obedience to the law of God, is voluntarily sinning against God, and is unrepentant. It is nonsense to say, that he is partly repentant and partly unrepentant; that he is repentant so far as he obeys, and unrepentant so far as he disobeys. This really seems to be the loose idea of many, that a man can be partly repentant, and partly unrepentant at the same time. This idea, doubtless, is founded on the mistake, that repentance consists in sorrow for sin, or is a phenomenon of the sensibility. But repentance consists in a change of ultimate intention a change in the choice of an end a turning from selfishness to supreme disinterested benevolence. It is, therefore, plainly impossible for one to be partly repentant, and partly unrepentant at the same time; inasmuch as penitence and impenitence consist in supreme opposite choices.
If what has been said is true, we see that the church has fallen into a great and ruinous mistake, in supposing that a state of present sinlessness is a very rare, if not an impossible, attainment in this life. If the doctrine of this lecture be true, it follows that the very beginning of true religion in the soul, implies the renunciation of all sin. Sin ceases where holiness begins. Now, how great and ruinous must that error be, that teaches us to hope for heaven, while living in conscious sin; to look upon a sinless state, as not to be expected in this world; that it is a dangerous error to expect to stop sinning, even for an hour or a moment, in this world; and yet to hope for heaven!
How great and ruinous the error, that justification is conditionated upon a faith that does not purify the heart of the believer; that one may be in a state of justification who lives in the constant commission of more or less sin! This error has slain more souls, I fear, than all the universalism that ever cursed the world.
We see that, if a righteous man forsake his righteousness, and die in his sin, he must sink to hell. Whenever a Christian sins he comes under condemnation, and must repent and do his first works, or be lost.