I. In the first place, to go into the analysis, the sense of duty is a sorrow and a pain to sinful man, because it places him under a continual restraint.
No creature can be happy, so long as he feels himself under limitations. To be checked, reined in, and thwarted in any way, renders a man uneasy and discontented. The universal and instinctive desire for freedom,—freedom from restraint,—is a proof of this. Every creature wishes to follow out his inclination, and in proportion as he is hindered in so doing, and is compelled to work counter to it, he is restless and dissatisfied.
Now the sense of duty exerts just this influence, upon sinful man. It opposes his wishes; it thwarts his inclination; it imposes a restraint upon his spontaneous desires and appetites. It continually hedges up his way, and seeks to stop him in the path of his choice and his pleasure. If his inclination were only in harmony with his duty; if his desires and affections were one with the law of God; there would be no restraint from the law. In this case, the sense of duty would be a joy and not a sorrow, because, in doing his duty, he would be doing what he liked. There are only two ways, whereby contentment can be introduced into the human soul. If the Divine law could be altered so that it should agree with man's sinful inclination, he could be happy in sin. The commandment having become like his own heart, there would, of course, be no conflict between the two, and he might sin on forever and lap himself in Elysium. And undoubtedly there are thousands of luxurious and guilty men, who, if they could, like the Eastern Semiramis, would make lust and law alike in their decree; would transmute the law of holiness into a law of sin; would put evil for good, and good for evil, bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter; in order to be eternally happy in the sin that they love. They would bring duty and inclination into harmony, by a method that would annihilate duty, would annihilate the eternal distinction between right and wrong, would annihilate God himself. But this method, of course, is impossible. There can be no transmutation of law, though there can be of a creature's character and inclination. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but the commandment of God can never pass away. The only other mode, therefore, by which duty and inclination can be brought into agreement, and the continual sense of restraint which renders man so wretched be removed, is to change the inclination. The instant the desires and affections of our hearts are transformed, so that they accord with the Divine law, the conflict between our will and our conscience is at an end. When I come to love the law of holiness and delight in it, to obey it is simply to follow out my inclination. And this, we have seen, is to be happy.
But such is not the state of things, in the unrenewed soul. Duty and inclination are in conflict. Man's desires appetites and tendencies are in one direction, and his conscience is in the other. The sense of duty holds a whip over him. He yields to his sinful inclination, finds a momentary pleasure in so doing, and then feels the stings of the scorpion-lash. We see this operation in a very plain and striking manner, if we select an instance where the appetite is very strong, and the voice of conscience is very loud. Take, for example, that particular sin which most easily besets an individual. Every man has such a sin, and knows what it is, Let him call to mind the innumerable instances in which that particular temptation has assailed him, and he will be startled to discover how many thousands of times the sense of duty has put a restraint upon him. Though not in every single instance, yet in hundreds and hundreds of cases, the law of God has uttered the, "Thou shalt not," and endeavored to prevent the consummation of that sin. And what a wearisome experience is this. A continual forth-putting of an unlawful desire, and an almost incessant check upon it, from a law which is hated but which is feared. For such is the attitude of the natural heart toward the commandment. "The carnal mind is enmity against the law of God." The two are contrary to one another; so that when the heart goes out in its inclination, it is immediately hindered and opposed by the law. Sometimes the collision between them is terrible, and the soul becomes; an arena of tumultuous passions. The heart and will are intensely determined to do wrong, while the conscience is unyielding and uncompromising, and utters its denunciations, and thunders its warnings. And what a dreadful destiny awaits that soul, in whom this conflict and collision between the dictates of conscience, and the desires of the heart, is to be eternal! for whom, through all eternity, the holy law of God, which was ordained to life peace and joy, shall be found to be unto death and woe immeasurable!
II. In the second place, the sense of duty is a pain and sorrow to a sinful man, because it demands a perpetual effort from him.
No creature likes to tug, and to lift. Service must be easy, in order to be happy. If you lay upon the shoulders of a laborer a burden that strains his muscles almost to the point of rupture, you put him in physical pain. His physical structure was not intended to be subjected to such a stretch. His Creator designed that the burden should be proportioned to the power, in such a manner that work should be play. In the garden of Eden, physical labor was physical pleasure, because the powers were in healthy action, and the work assigned to them was not a burden. Before the fall, man was simply to dress and keep a garden; but after the fall, he was to dig up thorns and thistles, and eat his bread in the sweat of his face. This is a curse,—the curse of being compelled to toil, and lift, and put the muscle to such a tension that it aches. This is not the original and happy condition of the body, in which man was created. Look at the toiling millions of the human family, who like the poor ant "for one small grain, labor, and tug, and strive;" see them bending double, under the heavy weary load which they must carry until relieved by death; and tell me if this is the physical elysium, the earthly paradise, in which unfallen man was originally placed, and for which he was originally designed. No, the curse of labor, of perpetual effort, has fallen upon the body, as the curse of death has fallen upon the soul; and the uneasiness and unrest of the groaning and struggling body is a convincing proof of it. The whole physical nature of man groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now, waiting for the adoption, that is the redemption of the body from this penal necessity of perpetual strain and effort.
The same fact meets us when we pass from the physical to the moral nature of man, and becomes much more sad and impressive. By creation, it was a pleasure and a pastime for man to keep the law of God, to do spiritual work. As created, he was not compelled to summon his energies, and strain his will, and make a convulsive resolution to obey the commands of his Maker. Obedience was joy. Holy Adam knew nothing of effort in the path of duty. It was a smooth and broad pathway, fringed with flowers, and leading into the meadows of asphodel. It did not become the "straight and narrow" way, until sin had made obedience a toil, the sense of duty a restraint, and human life a race and a fight. By apostasy, the obligation to keep the Divine law perfectly, became repulsive. It was no longer easy for man to do right; and it has never been easy or spontaneous to him since. Hence, the attempt to follow the dictates of conscience always costs an unregenerate man an effort. He is compelled to make a resolution; and a resolution is the sign and signal of a difficult and unwelcome service. Take your own experience for an illustration. Did you ever, except as you were sweetly inclined and drawn by the renewing grace of God, attempt to discharge a duty, without discovering that you were averse to it, and that you must gather up your energies for the work, as the leaper strains upon the tendon of Achilles to make the mortal leap. And if you had not become weary, and given over the effort; if you had entered upon that sad but salutary passage in the religious experience which is delineated in the seventh chapter of Romans; if you had continued to struggle and strive to do your duty, until you grew faint and weak, and powerless, and cried out for a higher and mightier power to succor you; you would have known, as you do not yet, what a deadly opposition there is between the carnal mind and the law of God, and what a spasmodic effort it costs an unrenewed man even to attempt to discharge the innumerable obligations that rest upon him. Mankind would know more of this species of toil and labor, and of the cleaving curse involved in it, if they were under the same physical necessity in regard to it, that they lie under in respect to manual labor. A man must dig up the thorns and thistles, he must earn his bread in the sweat of his face, or he must die. Physical wants, hunger and thirst, set men to work physically, and keep them at it; and thus they well understand what it is to have a weary body, aching muscles, and a tired physical nature. But they are not under the same species of necessity, in respect to the wants and the work of the soul. A man may neglect these, and yet live a long and luxurious life upon the earth. He is not driven by the very force of circumstances, to labor with his heart and will, as he is to labor with his hands. And hence he knows little or nothing of a weary and heavy-laden soul; nothing of an aching heart and a tired will. He well knows how much strain and effort it costs to cut down forests, open roads, and reduce the wilderness to a fertile field; but he does not know how much toil and effort are involved, in the attempt to convert the human soul into the garden of the Lord.
Now in this demand for a perpetual effort which is made upon the natural man, by the sense of duty, we see that the law which was ordained to life is found to be unto death. The commandment, instead of being a pleasant friend and companion to the human soul, as it was in the beginning, has become a strict rigorous task-master. It lays out an uncongenial work for sinful man to do, and threatens him with punishment and woe if he does not do it. And yet the law is not a tyrant. It is holy, just, and good. This work which it lays out is righteous work, and ought to be done. The wicked disinclination and aversion of the sinner have compelled the law to assume this unwelcome and threatening attitude. That which is good was not made death to man by God's agency, and by a Divine arrangement, but by man's transgression. Sin produces this misery in the human soul, through an instrument that is innocent, and in its own nature benevolent and kind. Apostasy, the rebellion and corruption of the human heart, has converted the law of God into an exacting task-master and an avenging magistrate. For the law says to every man what St. Paul says of the magistrate: "Rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou, then, not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same. For he is the minister of God to thee for good: but if thou do that which is evil, be afraid." If man were only conformed to the law; if the inclination of his heart were only in harmony with his sense of duty; the ten commandments would not be accompanied with any thunders or lightnings, and the discharge of duty would be as easy, spontaneous, and as much without effort, as the practice of sin now is.
Thus have we considered two particulars in which the Divine law, originally intended to render man happy, and intrinsically adapted to do so, now renders him miserable. The commandment which was ordained to life, he now finds to be unto death, because it places him under a continual restraint, and drives him to a perpetual effort. These two particulars, we need not say, are not all the modes in which sin has converted the moral law from a joy to a sorrow. We have not discussed the great subject of guilt and penalty. This violated law charges home the past disobedience and threatens an everlasting damnation, and thus fills the sinful soul with fears and forebodings. In this way, also, the law becomes a terrible organ and instrument of misery, and is found to be unto death. But the limits of this discourse compel us to stop the discussion here, and to deduce some practical lessons which are suggested by it.
1. In the first place, we are taught by the subject, as thus considered, that the mere sense of duty is not Christianity. If this is all that a man is possessed of, he is not prepared for the day of judgment, and the future life. For the sense of duty, alone and by itself, causes misery in a soul that has not performed its duty. The law worketh wrath, in a creature who has not obeyed the law. The man that doeth these things shall indeed live by them; but he who has not done them must die by them.
There have been, and still are, great mistakes made at this point. Men have supposed that an active conscience, and a lofty susceptibility towards right and wrong, will fit them to appear before God, and have, therefore, rejected Christ the Propitiation. They have substituted ethics for the gospel; natural religion for revealed. "I know," says Immanuel Kant, "of but two beautiful things; the starry heavens above my head, and the sense of duty within my heart." But, is the sense of duty beautiful to apostate man? to a being who is not conformed to it? Does the holy law of God overarch him like the firmament, "tinged with a blue of heavenly dye, and starred with sparkling gold?" Nay, nay. If there be any beauty in the condemning law of God, for man the transgressor, it is the beauty of the lightnings. There is a splendor in them, but there is a terror also. Not until He who is the end of the law for righteousness has clothed me with His panoply, and shielded me from their glittering shafts in the clefts of the Rock, do I dare to look at them, as they leap from crag to crag, and shine from the east even unto the west.
We do not deny that the consciousness of responsibility is a lofty one, and are by no means insensible to the grand and swelling sentiments concerning the moral law, and human duty, to which this noble thinker gives utterance. But we are certain that if the sense of duty had pressed upon him to the degree that it did upon St. Paul; had the commandment "come" to him with the convicting energy that it did to St. Augustine, and to Pascal; he too would have discovered that the law which was ordained to life is found to be unto death. So long as man stands at a distance from the moral law, he can admire its glory and its beauty; but when it comes close to him; when it comes home to him; when it becomes a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart; then its glory is swallowed up in its terror, and its beauty is lost in its truth. Then he who was alive without the law becomes slain by the law. Then this ethical admiration of the decalogue is exchanged for an evangelical trust in Jesus Christ.
2. And this leads us to remark, in the second place, that this subject shows the meaning of Christ's work of Redemption. The law for an alienated and corrupt soul is a burden. It cannot be otherwise; for it imposes a perpetual restraint, urges up to an unwelcome duty, and charges home a fearful guilt. Christ is well named the Redeemer, because He frees the sinful soul from all this. He delivers it from the penalty, by assuming it all upon Himself, and making complete satisfaction to the broken law. He delivers it from the perpetual restraint and the irksome effort, by so renewing and changing the heart that it becomes a delight to keep the law. We observed, in the first part of the discourse, that if man could only bring the inclination of his heart into agreement with his sense of duty, he would be happy in obeying, and the consciousness of restraint and of hateful effort would disappear. This is precisely what Christ accomplishes by His Spirit. He brings the human heart into harmony with the Divine law, as it was in the beginning, and thus rescues it from its bondage and its toil. Obedience becomes a pleasure, and the service of God, the highest Christian liberty. Oh, would that by the act of faith, you might experience this liberating effect of the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. So long as you are out of Christ, you are under a burden that will every day grow heavier, and may prove to be fixed and unremovable as the mountains. That is a fearful punishment which the poet Dante represents as being inflicted upon those who were guilty of pride. The poor wretches are compelled to support enormous masses of stone which bend them over to the ground, and, in his own stern phrase, "crumple up their knees into their breasts." Thus they stand, stooping over, every muscle trembling, the heavy stone weighing them down, and yet they are not permitted to fall, and rest themselves upon the earth. In this crouching posture, they must carry the weary heavy load without relief, and with a distress so great that, in the poet's own language,
"it seemed As he, who showed most patience in his look, Wailing exclaimed: I can endure no more."
Such is the posture of man unredeemed. There is a burden on him, under which he stoops and crouches. It is a burden compounded of guilt and corruption. It is lifted off by Christ, and by Christ only. The soul itself can never expiate its guilt; can never cleanse its pollution. We urge you, once more, to the act of faith in the Redeemer of the world. We beseech you, once more, to make "the redemption that is in Christ Jesus" your own. The instant you plead the merit of Christ's oblation, in simple confidence in its atoning efficacy, that instant the heavy burden is lifted off by an Almighty hand, and your curved, stooping, trembling, aching form once more stands erect, and you walk abroad in the liberty wherewith Christ makes the human creature free.
[Footnote 1: "She in vice Of luxury was so shameless, that she made Liking to be lawful by promulged decree, To clear the blame she had herself incurr'd." DANTE: Inferno, v. 56.]
[Footnote 2: Romans vii. 13, 14.]
[Footnote 3: KANT: Kritik der Praktischen Vernunft (Beschlusz).—De Stael's rendering, which is so well known, and which I have employed, is less guarded than the original.]
[Footnote 4: Compare the fine apostrophe to Duty. PRAKTISCHE VERNUNFT, p. 214, (Ed. Rosenkranz.)]
[Footnote 5: "Let their eyes be darkened, that they may not see, and bow down their back alway." Rom. xi. 10.]
[Footnote 6: DANTE: Purgatory x. 126-128.]
THE SIN OF OMISSION.
Matthew xix. 20.—"The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?"
The narrative from which the text is taken is familiar to all readers of the Bible. A wealthy young man, of unblemished morals and amiable disposition, came to our Lord, to inquire His opinion respecting his own good estate. He asked what good thing he should do, in order to inherit eternal life. The fact that he applied to Christ at all, shows that he was not entirely at rest in his own mind. He could truly say that he had kept the ten commandments from his youth up, in an outward manner; and yet he was ill at ease. He was afraid that when the earthly life was over, he might not be able to endure the judgment of God, and might fail to enter into that happy paradise of which the Old Testament Scriptures so often speak, and of which he had so often read, in them. This young man, though a moralist, was not a self-satisfied or a self-conceited one. For, had he been like the Pharisee a thoroughly blinded and self-righteous person, like him he never would have approached Jesus of Nazareth, to obtain His opinion respecting his own religious character and prospects. Like him, he would have scorned to ask our Lord's judgment upon any matters of religion. Like the Pharisees, he would have said, "We see," and the state of his heart and his future prospects would have given him no anxiety. But he was not a conceited and presumptuous Pharisee. He was a serious and thoughtful person, though not a pious and holy one. For, he did not love God more than he loved his worldly possessions. He had not obeyed that first and great command, upon which hang all the law and the prophets, conformity to which, alone, constitutes righteousness: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and all thy soul, and all thy mind, and all thy strength." He was not right at heart, and was therefore unprepared for death and judgment. This he seems to have had some dim apprehension of. For why, if he had felt that his external morality was a solid rock for his feet to stand upon, why should he have betaken himself to Jesus of Nazareth, to ask: "What lack I yet?"
It was not what he had done, but what he had left undone, that wakened fears and forebodings in this young ruler's mind. The outward observance of the ten commandments was right and well in its own way and place; but the failure to obey, from the heart, the first and great command was the condemnation that rested upon him. He probably knew this, in some measure. He was not confidently certain of eternal life; and therefore he came to the Great Teacher, hoping to elicit from Him an answer that would quiet his conscience, and allow him to repose upon his morality while he continued to love this world supremely. The Great Teacher pierced him with an arrow. He said to him, "If them wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me." This direction showed him what he lacked.
This incident leads us to consider the condemnation that rests upon every man, for his failure in duty; the guilt that cleaves to him, on account of what he has not done. The Westminster Catechism defines sin to be "any want of conformity unto, or any transgression of, the law of God." Not to be conformed, in the heart, to the law and will of God, is as truly sin, as positively to steal, or positively to commit murder. Failure to come up to the line of rectitude is as punishable, as to step over that line. God requires of His creature that he stand squarely upon the line of righteousness; if therefore he is off that line, because he has not come up to it, he is as guilty as when he transgresses, or passes across it, upon the other side. This is the reason that the sin of omission is as punishable as the sin of commission. In either case alike, the man is off the line of rectitude. Hence, in the final day, man will be condemned for what he lacks, for what he comes short of, in moral character. Want of conformity to the Divine law as really conflicts with the Divine law, as an overt transgression does, because it carries man off and away from it. One of the Greek words for sin [Greek: (amurtanein)] signifies, to miss the mark. When the archer shoots at the target, he as really fails to strike it, if his arrow falls short of it, as when he shoots over and beyond it. If he strains upon the bow with such a feeble force, that the arrow drops upon the ground long before it comes up to the mark, his shot is as total a failure, as when he strains upon the bow-string with all his force, but owing to an ill-directed aim sends his weapon into the air. One of the New Testament terms for sin contains this figure and illustration, in its etymology. Sin is a want of conformity unto, a failure to come clear up to, the line and mark prescribed by God, as well a violent and forcible breaking over and beyond the line and the mark. The lack of holy love, the lack of holy fear, the lack of filial trust and confidence in God,—the negative absence of these and other qualities in the heart is as truly sin and guilt, as is the positive and open violation of a particular commandment, in the act of theft, or lying, or Sabbath-breaking.
We propose, then, to direct attention to that form and aspect of human depravity which consists in coming short of the aim and end presented to man by his Maker,—that form and aspect of sin which is presented in the young ruler's inquiry: "What lack I yet?"
It is a comprehensive answer to this question to say, that every natural man lacks sincere and filial love of God. This was the sin of the moral, but worldly, the amiable, but earthly-minded, young man. Endow him, in your fancy, with all the excellence you please, it still lies upon the face of the narrative, that he loved money more than he loved the Lord God Almighty. When the Son of God bade him go and sell his property, and give it to the poor, and then come and follow Him as a docile disciple like Peter and James and John, he went away sad in his mind; for he had great possessions. This was a reasonable requirement, though a very trying one. To command a young man of wealth and standing immediately to strip himself of all his property, to leave the circle in which he had been born and brought up, and to follow the Son of Man, who had not where to lay His head, up and down through Palestine, through good report and through evil report,—to put such a burden upon such a young man was to lay him under a very heavy load. Looking at it from a merely human and worldly point of view, it is not strange that the young ruler declined to take it upon his shoulders; though he felt sad in declining, because he had the misgiving that in declining he was sealing his doom. But, had he loved the Lord God with all his heart; had he been conformed unto the first and great command, in his heart and affections; had he not lacked a spiritual and filial affection towards his Maker; he would have obeyed.
For, the circumstances under which this command was given must be borne in mind. It issued directly from the lips of the Son of God Himself. It was not an ordinary call of Providence, in the ordinary manner in which God summons man to duty. There is reason to suppose that the young ruler knew and felt that Christ had authority to give such directions. We know not what were precisely his views of the person and office of Jesus of Nazareth; but the fact that he came to Him seeking instruction respecting the everlasting kingdom of God and the endless life of the soul, and the yet further fact that he went away in sadness because he did not find it in his heart to obey the instructions that he had received, prove that he was at least somewhat impressed with the Divine authority of our Lord. For, had he regarded Him as a mere ordinary mortal, knowing no more than any other man concerning the eternal kingdom of God, why should His words have distressed him? Had this young ruler taken the view of our Lord which was held by the Scribes and Pharisees, like them he would never have sought instruction from Him in a respectful and sincere manner; and, like them, he would have replied to the command to strip himself of all his property, leave the social circles to which he belonged, and follow the despised Nazarene, with the curling lip of scorn. He would not have gone away in sorrow, but in contempt. We must assume, therefore, that this young ruler felt that the person with whom he was conversing, and who had given him this extraordinary command, had authority to give it. We do not gather from the narrative that he doubted upon this point. Had he doubted, it would have relieved the sorrow with which his mind was disturbed. He might have justified his refusal to obey, by the consideration that this Jesus of Nazareth had no right to summon him, or any other man, to forsake the world and attach himself to His person and purposes, if any such consideration had entered his mind. No, the sorrow, the deep, deep sorrow and sadness, with which he went away to the beggarly elements of his houses and his lands, proves that he knew too well that this wonderful Being who was working miracles, and speaking words of wisdom that never man spake, had indeed authority and right to say to him, and to every other man, "Go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me."
Though the command was indeed an extraordinary one, it was given in an extraordinary manner, by an extraordinary Being. That young ruler was not required to do any more than you and I would be obligated to do, in the same circumstances. It is indeed true, that in the ordinary providence of God, you and I are not summoned to sell all our possessions, and distribute them to the poor, and to go up and down the streets of this city, or up and down the high-ways and by-ways of the land, as missionaries of Christ. But if the call were extra-ordinary,—if the heavens should open above our heads, and a voice from the skies should command us in a manner not to be doubted or disputed to do this particular thing, we ought immediately to do it. And if the love of God were in our hearts; if we were inwardly "conformed unto" the Divine law; if there were nothing lacking in our religious character; we should obey with the same directness and alacrity with which Peter and Andrew, and James and John, left their nets and their fishing-boat, their earthly avocations, their fathers and their fathers' households, and followed Christ to the end of their days. In the present circumstances of the church and the world, Christians must follow the ordinary indications of Divine Providence; and though these do unquestionably call upon them to make far greater sacrifices for the cause of Christ than they now make, yet they do not call upon them to sell all that they have, and give it to the poor. But they ought to be ready and willing to do so, in case God by any remarkable and direct expression should indicate that this is His will and pleasure. Should our Lord, for illustration, descend again, and in His own person say to His people, as He did to the young ruler: "Sell all that ye have, and give to the poor, and go up and down the earth preaching the gospel," it would be the duty of every rich Christian to strip himself of all his riches, and of every poor Christian to make himself yet poorer, and of the whole Church to adopt the same course that was taken by the early Christians, who "had all things common, and sold their possessions and goods and parted them to all men, as every man had need." The direct and explicit command of the Lord Jesus Christ to do any particular thing must be obeyed at all hazards, and at all cost. Should He command any one of His disciples to lay down his life, or to undergo a severe discipline and experience in His service, He must be obeyed. This is what He means when He says, "If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple" (Luke xiv. 26, 27).
The young ruler was subjected to this test. It was his privilege,—and it was a great privilege,—to see the Son of God face to face; to hear His words of wisdom and authority; to know without any doubt or ambiguity what particular thing God would have him do. And he refused to do it. He was moral; he was amiable; but he refused point-blank to obey the direct command of God addressed to him from the very lips of God. It was with him as it would be with us, if the sky should open over our heads, and the Son of God should descend, and with His own lips should command us to perform a particular service, and we should be disobedient to the heavenly vision, and should say to the Eternal Son of God: "We will not." Think you that there is nothing lacking in such a character as this? Is this religious perfection? Is such a heart as this "conformed unto" the law and will of God?
If, then, we look into the character of the young ruler, we perceive that there was in it no supreme affection for God. On the contrary, he loved himself with all his heart, and soul, and mind, and strength. Even his religious anxiety, which led him to our Lord for His opinion concerning his good estate, proved to be a merely selfish feeling. He desired immortal felicity beyond the tomb,—and the most irreligious man upon earth desires this,—but he did not possess such an affection for God as inclined, and enabled, him to obey His explicit command to make a sacrifice of his worldly possessions for His glory. And this lack of supreme love to God was sin. It was a deviation from the line of eternal rectitude and righteousness, as really and truly as murder, adultery, or theft, or any outward breach of any of those commandments which he affirmed he had kept from his youth up. This coming short of the Divine honor and glory was as much contrary to the Divine law, as any overt transgression of it could be.
For love is the fulfilling of the law. The whole law, according to Christ, is summed up and contained, in these words: "Thou shall love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and thy neighbor as thyself." To be destitute of this heavenly affection is, therefore, to break the law at the very centre and in the very substance of it. Men tell us, like this young ruler, that they do not murder, lie, or steal,—that they observe all the commandments of the second table pertaining to man and their relations to man,—and ask, "What lack we yet?" Alexander Pope, in the most brilliant and polished poetry yet composed by human art, sums up the whole of human duty in the observance of the rules and requirements of civil morality, and affirms that "an honest man is the noblest work of God." But is this so? Has religion reached its last term, and ultimate limit, when man respects the rights of property? Is a person who keeps his hands off the goods and chattels of his fellow-creature really qualified for the heavenly state, by reason of this fact and virtue of honesty? Has he attained the chief end of man? Even if we could suppose a perfect obedience of all the statutes of the second table, while those of the first table were disobeyed; even if one could fulfil all his obligations to his neighbor, while failing in all his obligations to his Maker; even if we should concede a perfect morality, without any religion; would it be true that this morality, or obedience of only one of the two tables that cover the whole field of human duty, is sufficient to prepare man for the everlasting future, and the immediate presence of God? Who has informed man that the first table of the law is of no consequence; and that if he only loves his neighbor as himself, he need not love his Maker supremely?
No! Affection in the heart towards the great and glorious God is the sum and substance of religion, and whoever is destitute of it is irreligious and sinful in the inmost spirit, and in the highest degree. His fault relates to the most excellent and worthy Being in the universe. He comes short of his duty, in reference to that Being who more than any other one is entitled to his love and his services. We say, and we say correctly, that if a man fails of fulfilling his obligations towards those who have most claims upon him, he is more culpable than when he fails of his duty towards those who have less claims upon him. If a son comes short of his duty towards an affectionate and self-sacrificing mother, we say it is a greater fault, than if he comes short of his duty to a fellow-citizen. The parent is nearer to him than the citizen, and he owes unto her a warmer affection of his heart, and a more active service of his life, than he owes to his fellow-citizen. What would be thought of that son who should excuse his neglect, or ill-treatment, of the mother that bore him, upon the ground that he had never cheated a fellow-man and had been scrupulous in all his mercantile transactions! This but feebly illustrates the relation which every man sustains to God, and the claim which God has upon every man. Our first duty and obligation relates to our Maker. Our fellow-creatures have claims upon us; the dear partners of our blood have claims upon us; our own personality, with its infinite destiny for weal or woe, has claims upon us. But no one of these; not all of them combined; have upon us that first claim, which God challenges for Himself. Social life,—the state or the nation to which we belong,—cannot say to us: "Thou shalt love me with all thy heart, and soul, and mind, and strength." The family, which is bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh, cannot say to us: "Thou shalt love us, with all thy soul, mind, heart, and strength." Even our own deathless and priceless soul cannot say to us: "Thou shalt love me supremely, and before all other beings and things." But the infinite and adorable God, the Being that made us, and has redeemed us, can of right demand that we love and honor Him first of all, and chiefest of all.
There are two thoughts suggested by the subject which we have been considering, to which we now invite candid attention.
1. In the first place, this subject convicts every man of sin. Our Lord, by his searching reply to the young ruler's question, "What lack I yet?" sent him away very sorrowful; and what man, in any age and country, can apply the same test to himself, without finding the same unwillingness to sell all that he has and give to the poor,—the same indisposition to obey any and every command of God that crosses his natural inclinations? Every natural man, as he subjects his character to such a trial as that to which the young ruler was subjected, will discover as he did that he lacks supreme love of God, and like him, if he has any moral earnestness; if he feels at all the obligation of duty; will go away very sorrowful, because he perceives very plainly the conflict between his will and his conscience. How many a person, in the generations that have already gone to the judgment-seat of Christ, and in the generation that is now on the way thither, has been at times brought face to face with the great and first command, "Thou shall love the Lord thy God with all thy heart," and by some particular requirement has been made conscious of his utter opposition to that great law. Some special duty was urged upon him, by the providence, or the word, or the Spirit of God, that could not be performed unless his will were subjected to God's will, and unless his love for himself and the world were subordinated to his love of his Maker. If a young man, perhaps he was commanded to consecrate his talents and education to a life of philanthropy and service of God in the gospel, instead of a life devoted to secular and pecuniary aims. God said to him, by His providence, and by conscience, "Go teach my gospel to the perishing; go preach my word, to the dying and the lost." But he loved worldly ease pleasure and reputation more than he loved God; and he refused, and went away sorrowful, because this poor world looked very bright and alluring, and the path of self-denial and duty looked very forbidding. Or, if he was a man in middle life, perhaps he was commanded to abate his interest in plans for the accumulation of wealth, to contract his enterprises, to give attention to the concerns of his soul and the souls of his children, to make his own peace with God, and to consecrate the remainder of his life to Christ and to human welfare; and when this plain and reasonable course of conduct was dictated to him, he found his whole heart rising up against the proposition. Our Lord, alluding to the fact that there was nothing in common between His spirit, and the spirit of Satan, said to His disciples, "The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me" (John xiv. 30). So, when the command to love God supremely comes to this man of the world, in any particular form, "it hath nothing in him." This first and great law finds no ready and genial response within his heart, but on the contrary a recoil within his soul as if some great monster had started up in his pathway. He says, in his mind, to the proposition: "Anything but that;" and, with the young ruler, he goes away sorrowful, because he knows that refusal is perdition.
Is there not a wonderful power to convict of sin, in this test? If you try yourself, as the young man did, by the command, "Thou shalt not kill," "Thou shalt not steal," "Thou shalt not commit adultery," you may succeed, perhaps, in quieting your conscience, to some extent, and in possessing yourself of the opinion of your fitness for the kingdom of God. But ask yourself the question, "Do I love God supremely, and am I ready and willing to do any and every particular thing that He shall command me to do, even if it is plucking out a right eye, or cutting off a right hand, or selling all my goods to give to the poor?" try yourself by this test, and see if you lack anything in your moral character. When this thorough and proper touch-stone of character is applied, there is not found upon earth a just man that doeth good and sinneth not. Every human creature, by this test is concluded under sin. Every man is found, lacking in what he ought to possess, when the words of the commandment are sounded in his ear: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and all thy soul, and all thy mind, and all thy strength." This sum and substance of the Divine law, upon which hang all the other laws, convinces every man of sin. For there is no escaping its force. Love of God is a distinct and definite feeling, and every person knows whether he ever experienced it. Every man knows whether it is, or is not, an affection of his heart; and he knows that if it be wanting, the foundation of religion is wanting in his soul, and the sum and substance of sin is there.
2. And this leads to the second and concluding thought suggested, by the subject, namely, that except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. If there be any truth in the discussion through which we have passed, it is plain and incontrovertible, that to be destitute of holy love to God is a departure and deviation from the moral law. It is a coming short of the great requirement that rests upon every accountable creature of God, and this is as truly sin and guilt as any violent and open passing over and beyond the line of rectitude. The sin of omission is as deep and damning as the sin of commission. "Forgive,"—said the dying archbishop Usher,—"forgive all my sins, especially my sins of omission."
But, how is this lack to be supplied? How is this great hiatus in human character to be filled up? How shall the fountain of holy and filial affection towards God be made to gush up into everlasting life, within your now unloving and hostile heart? There is no answer to this question of questions, but in the Person and Work of the Holy Ghost. If God shall shed abroad His love in your heart, by the Holy Ghost which is given unto you, you will know the blessedness of a new affection; and will be able to say with Peter, "Thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee." You are shut up to this method, and this influence. To generate within yourself this new spiritual emotion which you have never yet felt, is utterly impossible. Yet you must get it, or religion, is impossible, and immortal life is impossible. Would that you might feel your straits, and your helplessness. Would that you might perceive your total lack of supreme love of God, as the young ruler perceived his; and would that, unlike him, instead, of going away from the Son of God, you would go to Him, crying, "Lord create within me a clean heart, and renew within me a right spirit." Then the problem would be solved, and having peace with God through the blood of Christ, the love of God would be shed abroad in your hearts, through the Holy Ghost given unto you.
[Footnote 1: John ix. 41.]
[Footnote 2: Even if we should widen the meaning of the word "honest," in the above-mentioned dictum of Pope, and make it include the Latin "honestum," the same objection would lie against dictum. Honor and high-mindedness towards man is not love and reverence towards God. The spirit of chivalry is not the spirit of Christianity.]
THE SINFULNESS OF ORIGINAL SIN.
MATTHEW xix. 20.—"The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?"
In the preceding discourse from these words, we discussed that form and aspect of sin which consists in "coming short" of the Divine Law; or, as the Westminster Creed states it, in a "want of conformity" unto it. The deep and fundamental sin of the young ruler, we found, lay in what he lacked. When our Lord tested him, he proved to be utterly destitute of love to God. His soul was a complete vacuum, in reference to that great holy affection which fills the hearts of all the good beings before the throne of God, and without which no creature can stand, or will wish to stand, in the Divine presence. The young ruler, though outwardly moral and amiable, when searched in the inward parts was found wanting in the sum and substance of religion. He did not love God; and he did love himself and his possessions.
What man has omitted to do, what man is destitute of,—this is a species of sin which he does not sufficiently consider, and which is weighing him down to perdition. The unregenerate person when pressed to repent of his sins, and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, often beats back the kind effort, by a question like that which Pilate put to the infuriated Jews: "Why, what evil have I done?" It is the subject of his actual and overt transgressions that comes first into his thoughts, and, like the young ruler, he tells his spiritual friend and adviser that he has kept all the commandments from his youth up. The conviction of sin would be more common if the natural man would consider his failures; if he would look into his heart and perceive what he is destitute of, and into his conduct and see what he has left undone.
In pursuing this subject, we propose to show, still further, the guiltiness of every man, from the fact that he lacks the original righteousness that once belonged to him. We shall endeavor to prove that every child of Adam is under condemnation, or, in the words of Christ, that "the wrath of God abides upon him" (John iii. 36), because he is not possessed of that pure and perfect character which, his Maker gave him in the beginning. Man is culpable for not continuing to stand upon the high and sinless position, in which he was originally placed. When the young ruler's question is put to the natural man, and the inquiry is made as to his defects and deficiency, it is invariably discovered that he lacks the image of God in which he was created. And for a rational being to be destitute of the image of God is sin, guilt, and condemnation, because every rational being has once received this image.
God has the right to demand from every one of his responsible creatures, all that the creature might be, had he retained possession of the endowments which he received at creation, and had he employed them with fidelity. The perfect gifts and capacities originally bestowed upon man, and not the mutilated and damaged powers subsequently arising from a destructive act of self-will, furnish the proper rule of measurement, in estimating human merit or demerit. The faculties of intelligence and will as unfallen, and not as fallen, determine the amount of holiness and of service that may be demanded, upon principles of strict justice, from every individual. All that man "comes short" of this is so much sin, guilt, and condemnation.
When the great Sovereign and Judge looks down from His throne of righteousness and equity, upon any one of the children of men, He considers what that creature was by creation, and compares his present character and conduct with the character with which he was originally endowed, and the conduct that would naturally have flowed therefrom. God made man holy and perfect. God created man in his own image (Gen. i. 26), "endued with knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness, having the law of God written in his heart, and power to fulfil it." This is the statement of the Creed which we accept as a fair and accurate digest of the teachings of Revelation, respecting the primitive character of man, and his original righteousness. And all evangelical creeds, however they may differ from each other in their definitions of original righteousness, and their estimate of the perfections and powers granted to man by creation, do yet agree that he stood higher when he came from the hand of God than he now stands; that man's actual character and conduct do not come up to man's created power and capacities. Solemn and condemning as it is, it is yet a fact, that inasmuch as every man was originally made in the holy image of God, he ought, this very instant to be perfectly holy. He ought to be standing upon a position that is as high above his actual position, as the heavens are high above the earth. He ought to be possessed of a moral perfection without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing. He ought to be as he was, when created in righteousness and true holiness. He ought to be dwelling high up on those lofty and glorious heights where he was stationed by the benevolent hand of his Maker, instead of wallowing in those low depths where he has fallen by an act of apostasy and rebellion. Nothing short of this satisfies the obligations that are resting upon him. An imperfect holiness, such as the Christian is possessed of while here upon earth, does not come up to the righteous requirement of the moral law; and certainly that kind of moral character which belongs to the natural man is still farther off from the sum-total that is demanded.
Let us press this truth, that we may feel its convicting and condemning energy. When our Maker speaks to us upon the subject of His claims and our obligations, He tells us that when we came forth from nonentity into existence, from His hand, we were well endowed, and well furnished. He tells us distinctly, that He did not create us the depraved and sinful beings that we now are. He tells us that these earthly affections, this carnal mind, this enmity towards the Divine law, this disinclination towards religion and spiritual concerns, this absorbing love of the world and this supreme love of self,—that these were not implanted or infused into the soul by our wise, holy, and good Creator. This is not His work. This is no part of the furniture with which mankind were set up for an everlasting existence. "God saw everything that he had made, and behold it was very good." (Gen. i. 31). We acknowledge the mystery that overhangs the union and connection of all men with the first man. We know that this corruption of man's nature, and this sinfulness of his heart, does indeed, appear at the very beginning of his individual life. He is conceived in sin, and shapen in iniquity (Ps. li. 5). This selfish disposition, and this alienation of the heart from God, is native depravity, is inborn corruption. This we know both from Revelation, and observation. But we also know, from the same infallible Revelation, that though man is born a sinner from the sinful Adam, he was created a saint in the holy Adam. By origin he is holy, and by descent he is sinful; because there has intervened, between his creation and his birth, that "offence of one man whereby all men were made sinners" (Rom. v. 18, 19). Though we cannot unravel the whole mystery of this subject, yet if we accept the revealed fact, and concede that God did originally make man in His own image, in righteousness and true holiness, and that man has since unmade himself, by the act of apostasy and rebellion,—if we take this as the true and correct statement of the facts in the case, then we can see how and why it is, that God has claims upon His creature, man, that extend to what this creature originally was and was capable of becoming, and not merely to what he now is, and is able to perform.
When, therefore, the young ruler's question, "What lack I?" is asked and answered upon a broad scale, each and every man must say: "I lack original righteousness; I lack the holiness with which God created man; I lack that perfection of character which belonged to my rational and immortal nature coming fresh from the hand of God in the person of Adam; I lack all that I should now be possessed of, had that nature not apostatized from its Maker and its Sovereign." And when God forms His estimate of man's obligations; when He lays judgment to the line, and righteousness to the plummet; He goes back to the beginning, He goes back to creation, and demands from His rational and immortal creature that perfect service which, he was capable of rendering by creation, but which now he is unable to render because of subsequent apostasy. For, God cannot adjust His demands to the alterations which sinful man makes in himself. This would be to annihilate all demands and obligations. A sliding-scale would be introduced, by this method, that would reduce human duty by degrees to a minimum, where it would disappear. For, the more sinful a creature becomes, the less inclined, and consequently the less able does he become to obey the law of God. If, now, the Eternal Judge shapes His requisitions in accordance with the shifting character of His creature, and lowers His law down just as fast as the sinner enslaves himself to lust and sin, it is plain that sooner or later all moral obligation will run out; and whenever the creature becomes totally enslaved to self and flesh, there will no longer be any claims resting upon him. But this cannot be so. "For the kingdom of heaven,"—says our Lord,—"is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants and delivered unto them his goods. And unto one he gave five talents, and to another two, and to another one; and straightway took his journey." When the settlement was made. Each and every one of the parties was righteously summoned to account for all that had originally been intrusted to him, and to show a faithful improvement of the same. If any one of the servants had been found to have "lacked" a part, or the whole, of the original treasure, because he had culpably lost it, think you that the fact that it was now gone from his possession, and was past recovery, would have been accepted as a valid excuse from the original obligations imposed upon him? In like manner, the fact, that man cannot reinstate himself in his original condition of holiness and blessedness, from which he has fallen by apostasy, will not suffice to justify him before God for being in a helpless state of sin and misery, or to give him any claims upon God for deliverance from it. God can and does pity him, in his ruined and lost estate, and if the creature will cast himself upon His mercy, acknowledging the righteousness of the entire claims of God upon him for a sinless perfection and a perfect service, he will meet and find mercy. But if he takes the ground that he does not owe such an immense debt as this, and that God has no right to demand from him, in his apostate and helpless condition, the same perfection of character and obedience which holy Adam possessed and rendered, and which the unfallen angels possess and render, God will leave him to the workings of conscience, and the operations of stark unmitigated law and justice. "The kingdom of heaven,"—says our Lord,—"is likened unto a certain king which would take account of his servants. And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him which owed him ten thousand talents; but forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt" (Matt, xviii. 28-27). But suppose that that servant had disputed the claim, and had put in an appeal to justice instead of an appeal to mercy, upon the ground that inasmuch as he had lost his property and had nothing to pay with, therefore he was not obligated to pay, think you that the king would have conceded the equity of the claim? On the contrary, he would have entered into no argument in so plain a case, but would have "delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him." So likewise shall the heavenly Father do also unto you, and to every man, who attempts to diminish the original claim of God to a perfect obedience and service, by pleading the fall of man, the corruption of human nature, the strength of sinful inclination and affections, and the power of earthly temptation. All these are man's work, and not that of the Creator. This helplessness and bondage grows directly out of the nature of sin. "Whosoever committeth sin is the slave of sin. Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves slaves to obey, his slaves ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?" (John viii. 34; Rom. vi. 16).
In view of the subject as thus discussed, we invite attention to some practical conclusions that flow directly out of it. For, though we have been speaking upon one of the most difficult themes in Christian theology, namely man's creation in holiness and his loss of holiness by the apostasy in Adam, yet we have at the same time been speaking of one of the most humbling, and practically profitable, doctrines in the whole circle of revealed truth. We never shall arrive at any profound sense of sin, unless we know and feel our guilt and corruption by nature; and we shall never arrive at any profound sense of our guilt and corruption by nature, unless we know and understand the original righteousness and innocence in which we were first created. We can measure the great depth of the abyss into which, we have fallen, only by looking up to those great heights in the garden of Eden, upon which our nature once stood beautiful and glorious, the very image and likeness of our Creator.
1. We remark then, in the first place, that it is the duty of every man to humble himself on account of his lack of original righteousness, and to repent of it as sin before God.
One of the articles of the Presbyterian Confession of Faith reads thus: Every sin, both original and actual, being a transgression of the righteous law of God, and contrary thereunto, doth, in its own nature, bring guilt upon the sinner, whereby he is "bound over to the wrath of God, and curse of the law, and so made subject to death, with all miseries spiritual, temporal, and eternal." The Creed which we accept summons us to repent of original as well as actual sin; and it defines original sin to be "the want of original righteousness, together with the corruption of the whole nature." The want of original righteousness, then, is a ground of condemnation, and therefore a reason for shame, and godly sorrow. It is something which man once had, ought still to have, but now lacks; and therefore is ill-deserving, for the very same reason that the young ruler's lack of supreme love to God was ill-deserving.
If we acknowledge the validity of the distinction between a sin of omission and a sin of commission, and concede that each alike is culpable, we shall find no difficulty with this demand of the Creed. Why should not you and I mourn over the total want of the image of God in our hearts, as much as over any other form and species of sin? This image of God consists in holy reverence. When we look into our hearts, and find no holy reverence there, ought we not to be filled with shame and sorrow? This image of God consists in filial and supreme affection for God, such as the young ruler lacked; and when we look into our hearts, and find not a particle of supreme love to God in them, ought we not to repent of this original, this deep-seated, this innate depravity? This image of God, again, which was lost in our apostasy, consisted in humble constant trust in God; and when we search our souls, and perceive that there is nothing of this spirit in them, but on the contrary a strong and overmastering disposition to trust in ourselves, and to distrust our Maker, ought not this discovery to waken in us the very same feeling that Isaiah gave expression to, when he said that the whole head is sick, and the whole heart is faint; the very same feeling that David gave expression to, when he cried: "Behold I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me?"
This is to repent of original sin, and there is no mystery or absurdity about it. It is to turn the eye inward, and see what is lacking in our heart and affections; and not merely what of outward and actual transgressions we have committed. Those whose idea of moral excellence is like that of the young ruler; those who suppose holiness to consist merely in the outward observance of the commandments of the second table; those who do not look into the depths of their nature, and contrast the total corruption that is there, with the perfect and positive righteousness that ought to be there, and that was there by creation,—all such will find the call of the Creed to repent of original sin as well as of actual, a perplexity and an impossibility. But every man who knows that the substance of piety consists in positive and holy affections,—in holy reverence, love and trust,—and who discovers that these are wanting in him by nature, though belonging to him by creation, will mourn in deep contrition and self-abasement over that act of apostasy by which this great change in human character, this great lack was brought about. 2. In the second place, it follows from the subject we have discussed, that every man must, by some method, recover his original righteousness, or be ruined forever. "Without holiness no man shall see the Lord." No rational creature is fit to appear in the presence of his Maker, unless he is as pure and perfect as he was originally made. Holy Adam was prepared by his creation in the image of God, to hold blessed communion with God, and if he and his posterity had never lost this image, they would forever be in fellowship with their Creator and Sovereign. Holiness, and holiness alone, enables the creature to stand with angelic tranquillity, in the presence of Him before whom the heavens and the earth flee away. The loss of original righteousness, therefore, was the loss of the wedding garment; it was the loss of the only robe in which the creature could appear at the banquet of God. Suppose that one of the posterity of sinful Adam, destitute of holy love reverence and faith, lacking positive and perfect righteousness, should be introduced into the seventh heavens, and there behold the infinite Jehovah. Would he not feel, with a misery and a shame that could not be expressed, that he was naked? that he was utterly unfit to appear in such a Presence? No wonder that our first parents, after their apostasy, felt that they were unclothed. They were indeed stripped of their character, and had not a rag of righteousness to cover them. No wonder that they hid themselves from the intolerable purity and brightness of the Most High. Previously, they had felt no such emotion. They were "not ashamed," we are told. And the reason lay in the fact that, before their apostasy, they were precisely as they were made. They were endowed with the image of God; and their original righteousness and perfect holiness qualified them to stand before their Maker, and to hold blessed intercourse with Him. But the instant they lost their created endowment of holiness, they were conscious that they lacked that indispensable something wherewith to appear before God.
And precisely so is it, with their posterity. Whatever a man's theory of the future life may be, he must be insane, if he supposes that he is fit to appear before God, and to enter the society of heaven, if destitute of holiness, and wanting the Divine image. When the spirit of man returns to God who gave it, it must return as good as it came from His hands, or it will be banished from the Divine presence. Every human soul, when it goes back to its Maker, must carry with it a righteousness, to say the very least, equal to that in which it was originally created, or it will be cast out as an unprofitable and wicked servant. All the talents entrusted must be returned; and returned with usury. A modern philosopher and poet represents the suicide as justifying the taking of his own life, upon the ground that he was not asked in the beginning, whether he wanted life. He had no choice whether he would come into existence or not; existence was forced upon him; and therefore he had a right to put an end to it, if he so pleased. To this, the reply is made, that he ought to return his powers and faculties to the Creator in as good condition as he received them; that he had no right to mutilate and spoil them by abuse, and then fling the miserable relics of what was originally a noble creation, in the face of the Creator. In answer to the suicide's proposition to give back his spirit to God who gave it, the poet represents God as saying to him:
"Is't returned as 'twas sent? Is't no worse for the wear? Think first what you are! Call to mind what you were! I gave you innocence, I gave you hope, Gave health, and genius, and an ample scope. Return you me guilt, lethargy, despair? Make out the invent'ry; inspect, compare! Then die,—if die you dare!"
Yes, this is true and solemn reasoning. You and I, and every man, must by some method, or other, go back to God as good as we came forth from Him. We must regain our original righteousness; we must be reinstated in our primal relation to God, and our created condition; or there is nothing in store for us, but the blackness of darkness. We certainly cannot stand in the judgment clothed with original sin, instead of original righteousness; full of carnal and selfish affections, instead of pure and heavenly affections. This great lack, this great vacuum, in our character, must by some method be filled up with solid, and everlasting excellencies, or the same finger that wrote, in letters of fire, upon the wall of the Babylonian monarch, the awful legend: "Thou art weighed in the balance, and art found wanting," will write it in letters of fire upon our own rational spirit.
There is but one method, by which man's original righteousness and innocency can be regained; and this method you well know. The blood of Jesus Christ sprinkled by the Holy Ghost, upon your guilty conscience, reinstates you in innocency. When that is applied, there is no more guilt upon you, than there was upon Adam the instant he came from the creative hand. "There is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus." Who is he that condemneth, when it is Christ that died, and God that justifies? And when the same Holy Spirit enters your soul with renewing power, and carries forward His work of sanctification to its final completion, your original righteousness returns again, and you are again clothed in that spotless robe with which your nature was invested, on that sixth day of creation, when the Lord God said, "Let us make man in our image, and after our likeness." Ponder these truths, and what is yet more imperative, act upon them. Remember that you must, by some method, become a perfect creature, in order to become a blessed creature in heaven. Without holiness you cannot see the Lord. You must recover the character which you have lost, and the peace with God in which you were created. Your spirit, when it returns to God, must by some method be made equal to what it was when it came forth from Him. And there is no method, but the method of redemption by the blood and righteousness of Christ. Men are running to and fro after other methods. The memories of a golden age, a better humanity than they now know of, haunt them; and they sigh for the elysium that is gone. One sends you to letters, and culture, for your redemption. Another tells you that morality, or philosophy, will lift you again to those paradisaical heights that tower high above your straining vision. But miserable comforters are they all. No golden age returns; no peace with God or self is the result of such instrumentality. The conscience is still perturbed, the forebodings still overhang the soul like a black cloud, and the heart is as throbbing and restless as ever. With resoluteness, then, turn away from these inadequate, these feeble methods, and adopt the method of God Almighty. Turn away with contempt from human culture, and finite forces, as the instrumentality for the redemption of the soul which is precious, and which ceaseth forever if it is unredeemed. Go with confidence, and courage, and a rational faith, to God Almighty, to God the Redeemer. He hath power. He is no feeble and finite creature. He waves a mighty weapon, and sweats great drops of blood; travelling in the greatness of His strength. Hear His words of calm confidence and power: "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest."
[Footnote 1: The Augustinian doctrine, that the entire human species was created on the sixth day, existed as a nature (not as individuals) in the first human pair, acted in and fell with them in the first transgression, and us thus fallen and vitiated by an act of self-will has been procreated or individualized, permits the theologian, to say that all men are equally concerned in the origin of sin, and to charge the guilt of its origin upon all alike.]
[Footnote 2: CONFESSION OF FAITH. VI. vi.]
[Footnote 3: One of the points of difference between the Protestant and the Papist, when the dogmatic position of each was taken, related to the guilt of original sin,—the former affirming, and the latter denying. It is also one of the points of difference between Calvinism and Arminianism.]
[Footnote 4: Coleridge; Works, VII. 295.]
THE APPROBATION OF GOODNESS IS NOT THE LOVE OF IT.
ROMANS ii. 21—23.—"Thou therefore which, teachest another, teachest Thou not thyself? thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal? thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege? thou that makest thy boast of the law, through, breaking the law dishonorest thou God?"
The apostle Paul is a very keen and cogent reasoner. Like a powerful logician who is confident that he has the truth upon his side, and like a pureminded man who has no sinister ends to gain, he often takes his stand upon the same ground with his opponent, adopts his positions, and condemns him out of his own mouth. In the passage from which the text is taken, he brings the Jew in guilty before God, by employing the Jew's own claims and statements. "Behold thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God, and knowest his will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, and art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them which are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish. Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? thou that preachest that a man should not steal, dost thou steal? thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonorest thou God?" As if he had said: "You claim to be one of God's chosen people, to possess a true knowledge of Him and His law; why do you not act up to this knowledge? why do you not by your character and conduct prove the claim to be a valid one?"
The apostle had already employed this same species of argument against the Gentile world. In the first chapter of this Epistle to the Romans, St. Paul demonstrates that the pagan world is justly condemned by God, because, they too, like the Jew, knew more than they practised. He affirms that the Greek and Roman world, like the Jewish people, "when they knew God, glorified him not as God, neither were thankful;" that as "they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind;" and that "knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things" as he had just enumerated in that awful catalogue of pagan vices "are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them." The apostle does not for an instant concede, that the Gentile can put in the plea that he was so entirely ignorant of the character and law of God, that he ought to be excused from the obligation to love and obey Him. He expressly affirms that where there is absolutely no law, and no knowledge of law, there can be no transgression; and yet affirms that in the day of judgment every mouth must be stopped, and the whole world must plead guilty before God. It is indeed true, that he teaches that there is a difference in the degrees of knowledge which the Jew and the Gentile respectively possess. The light of revealed religion, in respect to man's duty and obligations, is far clearer than the light of nature, and increases the responsibilities of those who enjoy it, and the condemnation of those who abuse it; but the light of nature is clear and true as far as it goes, and is enough to condemn every soul outside of the pale of Revelation. For, in the day of judgment, there will not be a single human creature who can look his Judge in the eye, and say: "I acted up to every particle of moral light that I enjoyed; I never thought a thought, felt a feeling, or did a deed, for which my conscience reproached me."
It follows from this, that the language of the apostle, in the text, may be applied to every man. The argument that has force for the Jew has force for the Gentile. "Thou that teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? thou that preachest that a man should not steal, dost thou steal?" You who know the character and claims of God, and are able to state them to another, why do you not revere and obey them in your own person? You who approve of the law of God as pure and perfect, why do you not conform your own heart and conduct to it? You who perceive the excellence of piety in another, you who praise and admire moral excellence in your fellow-man, why do you not seek after it, and toil after it in your own heart? In paying this tribute of approbation to the character of a God whom you do not yourself love and serve, and to a piety in your neighbor which you do not yourself possess and cultivate, are you not writing down your own condemnation? How can you stand before the judgment-seat of God, after having in this manner confessed through your whole life upon earth that God is good, and His law is perfect, and yet through that whole life have gone counter to your own confession, neither loving that God, nor obeying that law? "To him that knoweth to do good and doeth it not, to him it is sin." (James iv. 17.)
The text then, together with the chains of reasoning that are connected with it, leads us to consider the fact, that a man may admire and praise moral excellence without possessing or practising it himself; that the approbation of goodness is not the same as the love of it.
I. This is proved, in the first place, from the testimony of both God and man. The assertions and reasonings of the apostle Paul have already been alluded to, and there are many other passages of Scripture which plainly imply that men may admire and approve of a virtue which they do not practise. Indeed, the language of our Lord respecting the Scribes and Pharisees, may be applied to disobedient mankind at large: "Whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do ye not after their works: for they say, and do not." (Matt, xxiii. 3.) The testimony of man is equally explicit. That is a very remarkable witness which the poet Ovid bears to this truth. "I see the right,"—he says,—"and approve of it, but I follow and practise the wrong." This is the testimony of a profligate man of pleasure, in whom the light of nature had been greatly dimmed in the darkness of sin and lust. But he had not succeeded in annihilating his conscience, and hence, in a sober hour, he left upon record his own damnation. He expressly informed the whole cultivated classical world, who were to read his polished numbers, that he that had taught others had not taught himself; that he who had said that a man should not commit adultery had himself committed adultery; that an educated Roman who never saw the volume of inspiration, and never heard of either Moses or Christ, nevertheless approved of and praised a virtue that he never put in practice. And whoever will turn to the pages of Horace, a kindred spirit to Ovid both in respect to a most exquisite taste and a most refined earthliness, will frequently find the same confession breaking out. Nay, open the volumes of Rousseau, and even of Voltaire, and read their panegyrics of virtue, their eulogies of goodness. What are these, but testimonies that they, too, saw the right and did the wrong. It is true, that the eulogy is merely sentimentalism, and is very different from the sincere and noble tribute which a good man renders to goodness. Still, it is valid testimony to the truth that the mere approbation of goodness is not the love of it. It is true, that these panegyrics of virtue, when read in the light of Rousseau's sensuality and Voltaire's malignity, wear a dead and livid hue, like objects seen in the illumination from phosphorus or rotten wood; yet, nevertheless, they are visible and readable, and testify as distinctly as if they issued from elevated and noble natures, that the teachings of man's conscience are not obeyed by man's heart,—that a man may praise and admire virtue, while he loves and practises vice.
II. A second proof that the approbation of goodness is not the love of it is found in the fact, that it is impossible not to approve of goodness, while it is possible not to love it. The structure of man's conscience is such, that he can commend only the right; but the nature of his will is such, that he may be conformed to the right or the wrong. The conscience can give only one judgment; but the heart and will are capable of two kinds of affection, and two courses of action. Every rational creature is shut up, by his moral sense, to but one moral conviction. He must approve the right and condemn the wrong. He cannot approve the wrong and condemn the right; any more than he can perceive that two and two make five. The human conscience is a rigid and stationary faculty. Its voice may be stifled or drowned, for a time; but it can never be made to titter two discordant voices. It is for this reason, that the approbation of goodness is necessary and universal. Wicked men and wicked angels must testify that benevolence is right, and malevolence is wrong; though they hate the former, and love the latter.
But it is not so with the human will. This is not a rigid and stationary faculty. It is capable of turning this way, and that way. It was created holy, and it turned from holiness to sin, in Adam's apostasy. And now, under the operation of the Divine Spirit, it turns back again, it converts from sin to holiness. The will of man is thus capable of two courses of action, while his conscience is capable of only one judgment; and hence he can see and approve the right, yet love and practise the wrong. If a man's conscience changed along with his heart and his will, so that when he began to love and practise sin, he at the same time began to approve of sin, the case would be different. If, when Adam apostatised from God, his conscience at that moment began to take sides with his sin, instead of condemning it, then, indeed, neither Ovid, nor Horace, nor Rousseau, nor any other one of Adam's posterity, would have been able to say: "I see the right and approve of it, while I follow the wrong." But it was not so. After apostasy, the conscience of Adam passed the same judgment upon sin that it did before. Adam heard its terrible voice speaking in concert with the voice of God, and hid himself. He never succeeded in bringing his conscience over to the side of his heart and will, and neither has any one of his posterity. It is impossible to do this. Satan himself, after millenniums of sin, still finds that his conscience, that the accusing and condemning law written on the heart, is too strong for him to alter, too rigid for him to bend. The utmost that either he, or any creature, can do, is to drown its verdict for a time in other sounds, only to hear the thunder-tones again, waxing longer and louder like the trumpet of Sinai.
Having thus briefly shown that the approbation of goodness is not the love of it, we proceed to draw some conclusions from the truth.
1. In the first place, it follows from this subject, that the mere workings of conscience are no proof of holiness. When, after the commission of a wrong act, the soul of a man is filled with self-reproach, he must not take it for granted that this is the stirring of a better nature within him, and is indicative of some remains of original righteousness. This reaction of conscience against his disobedience of law is as necessary, and unavoidable, as the action of his eyelids under the blaze of noon, and is worthy neither of praise nor blame, so far as he is concerned. It does not imply any love for holiness, or any hatred of sin. Nay, it may exist without any sorrow for sin, as in the instance of the hardened transgressor who writhes under its awful power, but never sheds a penitential tear, or sends up a sigh for mercy. The distinction between the human conscience, and the human heart, is as wide as between the human intellect, and the human heart. We never think of confounding the functions and operations of the understanding with those of the heart. We know that an idea or a conception, is totally different from an emotion, or a feeling. How often do we remark, that a man may have an intellectual perception, without any correspondent experience or feeling in his heart. How continually does the preacher urge his hearers to bring their hearts into harmony with their understandings, so that their intellectual orthodoxy may become their practical piety.
Now, all this is true of the distinction between the conscience and the heart. The conscience is an intellectual faculty, and by that better elder philosophy which comprehended all the powers of the soul under the two general divisions of understanding and will, would be placed in the domain of the understanding. Conscience is a light, as we so often call it. It is not a life; it is not a source of life. No man's heart and will can be renewed or changed by his conscience. Conscience is simply a law. Conscience is merely legislative; it is never executive. It simply says to the heart and will: "Do thus, feel thus," but it gives no assistance, and imparts no inclination to obey its own command.
Those, therefore, commit a grave error both in philosophy and religion, who confound the conscience with the heart, and suppose that because there is in every man self-reproach and remorse after the commission of sin, therefore there is the germ of holiness within him. Holiness is love, the positive affection of the heart. It is a matter of the heart and the will. But this remorse is purely an affair of the conscience, and the heart has no connection with it. Nay, it appears in its most intense form, in those beings whose feelings emotions and determinations are in utmost opposition to God and goodness. The purest remorse in the universe is to be found in those wretched beings whose emotional and active powers, whose heart and will, are in the most bitter hostility to truth and righteousness. How, then, can the mere reproaches and remorse of conscience be regarded as evidence of piety?