« Prev 1. The Nature of the Question to be Considered. Next »

§ 1. The Nature of the Question to be Considered.

Our first parents, we are told, fell from the estate wherein they were created by sinning against God. This presents the question, which is one of the most difficult and comprehensive whether in morals or in theology, What is sin? The existence of sin is an undeniable fact. No man can examine his own nature, or observe the conduct of his fellow men, without having the conviction forced upon him that there is such an evil as sin. This is not a purely moral or theological question. It falls also within the province of philosophy, which assumes to explain all the phenomena of human nature as well as of the external world. Philosophers, therefore, of every age and of every school, have been compelled to discuss this subject. The philosophical theories, as to the nature of sin, are as numerous as the different schools of philosophy. This great question comes under the consideration of the Christian theologian with certain limitations. He assumes the existence of a personal God of infinite perfection, and he assumes the responsibility of man. No theory of the nature or origin of sin which conflicts with either of these fundamental principles, can for him be true. Before entering upon the statement of any of the theories which have been more or less extensively adopted, it is important to ascertain the data on which the answer to the question, What is sin? is to be determined; or the premises from which that answer is to be deduced. These are simply the declarations of the word of God and the facts of our own moral nature. Ignoring either wholly or in part these two sources of knowledge, many philosophers and even theologians, have recourse to the reason, or rather to the speculative understanding, for the decision of the question. This method, however, is unreasonable, and is sure to lead to false conclusions. In determining the nature of sensation we cannot adopt the à priori method, and argue from the nature of a thing how it ought to affect our organs of sense. We must assume the facts of sense consciousness as the phenomena to be explained. We cannot 131say that such is the nature of light that it cannot cause the phenomena of vision; or of acids that they cannot affect the organs of taste; or that our sensations are deceptive which lead ns to refer them to such causes. Nor can we determine philosophically the principles of beauty, and decide what men must admire and what they must dislike. All that philosophy can do is take the facts of our æsthetic nature and from them deduce the laws or principles of beauty. In like manner the facts of our moral consciousness must he assumed as true and trustworthy. We cannot argue that such is the constitution of the universe, such the relation of the individual to the whole, that there can be no such thing as sin, nothing for which we should feel remorse or on the ground of which we should apprehend punishment. Nor can we adopt such a theory of moral obligation as forbids our recognizing as sin what the conscience forces us to condemn. Any man who should adopt such a theory of the sublime and beautiful, as would demonstrate that Niagara and the Alps were not sublime objects in nature; or that the Madonna del Sisti or the Transfiguration by Raphael are not beautiful productions of art; or that the “Iliad” and “Paradise Lost” are not worthy of the admiration of ages, would lose his labour. And thus the man who ignores the facts of our moral nature in his theories of the origin and nature of sin, must labour in vain. This, however, is constantly done. It will be found that all the anti-theistic and antichristian views of this subject are purely arbitrary speculations, at war with the simplest and most undeniable facts of consciousness.

With regard to the nature of sin, it is to be remarked that there are two aspects in which the subject may be viewed. The first concerns its metaphysical, and the second, its moral nature. What is that which we call sin? Is it a substance, a principle, or an act? Is it privation, negation, or defect? Is it antagonism between mind and matter, between soul and body? Is it selfishness as a feeling, or as a purpose? All these are questions which concern the metaphysical nature of sin, what it is as a res in natura. Whereas such questions as the following concern rather its moral nature, namely, What gives sin its character as moral evil? How does it stand related to law? What law is it to which sin is related? What is its relation to the justice of God? What is its relation to his holiness? What has, or can have the relation of sin to law; is it acts of deliberation only, or also impulsive acts and affections, emotions and principles, or dispositions? 132It is obvious that these are moral, rather than metaphysical questions. In some of the theories on the nature of sin it is viewed exclusively in one of these aspects; and in some, exclusively in the other; and in some both views are combined. It is not proposed to attempt to keep these views distinct as both are of necessity involved in the theological discussion of the subject.

« Prev 1. The Nature of the Question to be Considered. Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection