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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 no more do it, 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 otherwise they must in their secret conviction excuse the sinner.
This doctrine naturally and necessarily leads its advocates, secretly at least, to ascribe the atonement of Christ rather to justice than to grace to regard it rather as an expedient to relieve the unfortunate, than to render the forgiveness of the inexcusable sinner possible. The advocates of the theory 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 appear 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.
The fact that Christ died in the stead and behalf of sinners, proves that God regarded them not as unfortunate, but as criminal and altogether without excuse. Surely Christ need not have died to atone for the misfortunes of men. His death was to atone for their guilt, and not for their misfortunes. But if they are without excuse for sin, they must be without a sinful nature that renders sin unavoidable. If men are without excuse for sin, as the whole law and gospel assume and teach, it cannot possibly be that their nature is sinful, for a sinful nature would be the best of all excuses for sin.
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 intellect, 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. This view of moral depravity that I am opposing, has long been the stronghold of Universalism. From it, the Universalists inveigh with resistless force against the idea that sinners should be sent to an eternal hell. Assuming the long-defended doctrine of original or constitutional sinfulness, they proceeded to show, that it would be 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, cannot 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 erroneous dogma of a sinful nature, and the whole edifice of Universalism comes to the ground in a moment. We come now to consider:
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 inclinations 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.
The Bible once, and only once, incidentally intimates that Adam's first sin has in some way been the occasion, not the necessary physical cause of all the sins of men (Rom. 5:12-19). It neither says nor intimates anything 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. In other parts of the Bible we are informed how we are to account for the existence of sin among men. James says, that a man is tempted when he is drawn aside of his own lusts, (epithumia-"desires") and enticed (James 1:14). That is, his lusts, or the impulses of his sensibility, are his tempters. When he or his will is overcome of these, he sins. 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 distinguished from intellect, 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 members, of putting off the old man with his deeds, etc. 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 probably been the occasion of leading certain philosophers and theologians who have not carefully examined the whole subject, to take a view of it which is directly opposed to the truth intended by the inspired writers. Because so much is said of the influence of the flesh over the mind, 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 impulse of the sensibility opposed to the law of the reason. This law, that is, the impulse of his sensibility, brings him into captivity, that is, influences his will, in spite of all his convictions to the contrary.
Moral depravity 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 God revealed in the reason.