THE DOCTRINE OF SIN
In the chapters on "Satan-His Origin, Work, and Destiny" and "The Original State And Fall Of Man" we covered the ground of the origin of sin in the universe and also its entrance into the human family. For that reason these subjects will not be treated in this chapter.
It is very important that we have an adequate understanding of sin. Many modern errors concerning salvation cannot be held by those who think logically if they have a proper conception of sin.
I. THE NATURE OF SIN
Sin is a hydra-headed thing. It presents different phases. An adequate treatment of sin must deal with these different phases:
1. SIN AS AN ACT.
In 1 John 3:4 we have the definition of sin as an act. It is a transgressing or a going contrary to the law of God.
2. SIN AS A STATE.
There are many people who cannot or will not see that sin goes deeper than an overt act. A little reflection will show that our acts are but expressions of our inner selves. Inward sinfulness then must precede overt acts of sin.
Jesus taught this in principle when He said: "Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit" (Matt. 12:33). This means that there must be a corrupt tree before there can be corrupt fruit. Jesus taught this truth explicitly when He said: "For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, thefts, false witness, blasphemies . . ." (Matt. 15:19). He taught it again when He said: "And this is the condemnation: that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light" (John 3:19). Still again He taught it in the Sermon on the Mount by emphasizing the fact that men can break the commandments of God by harboring evil thoughts. See Matt. 5:21,22,27,28. In simple words this means that a man is not what he is because of what he does; rather he does what he does because of what he is, fundamentally speaking.
(1) The Hebrew and Greek words translated "sin" are as applicable to dispositions and states as to acts.
(3) Evil is ascribed to thoughts and affections. Gen. 6:5; Jer. 17:9; Heb. 3:I2.
(5) Sin is alluded to as a reigning principle in the life.
3. SIN AS A PRINCIPLE.
4. SIN IN ESSENCE.
"We may follow Dr. E. G. Robinson in saying that, while sin as a state is unlikeness to God, as a principle is opposition to God, and as an act is transgression of God's law, the essence of it always and everywhere is selfishness" (Strong Systematic Theology, p. 295).
Sin may be described as a tree of self-will, having two tap roots. One is a "no" to God and His demands. The other is a "yes" to self and self's interests. This tree is capable of bearing every manner of sin in the catalogue of sins. Selfishness is always manifest in the sinner in the elevation of "some lower affection or desire above regard for God and His law" (Strong). No matter what form sin may take, it is always found to have selfishness as its root. Sin may take the forms of avarice, pride, vanity, ambition, sensuality, jealousy, or even love of others- in which case others are loved because they are conceived of as being in some way connected with or contributing to self. The sinner may seek truth, but always for selfish, egotistical purposes. He may give his goods to feed the poor, or even his body to be burned, but only through selfish desire for fleshly gratification or for honor or reward. Sin as selfishness has four component parts: "(1) Self will, instead of submission; (2) self-seeking, instead of benevolence; (3) self-righteousness, instead of humility and reverence; (4) self-sufficiency, instead of faith" (Harris).
In proof of the fact that sin is essentially selfishness we urge the following considerations:
(2) When the "man of sin" is revealed, he shall be he that "exalteth himself against all that is called God" (2 Thess. 2:4).
(3) The essence of the law of God is to love God supremely and others as self.
The opposite of this, the supreme love of self, must be the essence of sin. Matt. 22:37-39.
Isa. 14:12-15; Ezek. 28:12-18.
Eve ate of the forbidden fruit because she thought it would give desired wisdom. Adam partook of the fruit because he preferred his wife to God; and the reason he preferred his wife to God is that he conceived of his wife as contributing more than God to his self-gratification.
(6) Cain's murder of Abel was prompted by jealousy, which is a form of selfishness.
God has commanded all men everywhere to repent. Men refuse to do this because they prefer their own wills to the will of God.
We see, then, that sin is not merely a result of man's imperfect development. It is a perversity of the will and disposition. Man will never outgrow it so long as he is in the flesh. Regeneration puts a check upon it; but it does not destroy it. Nor is sin the mere result of the union of the spirit with the body. The spirit itself is sinful and would be just as sinful out of the body as in the body if left in its natural state. Satan has no body; yet he is supremely sinful. Neither is sin mere finiteness. The elect angels in Heaven are finite; yet they are without sin. Glorified saints will still be finite; yet they will have no sin.
II. THE UNIVERSALITY OF SIN IN THE HUMAN FAMILY
All men, with the sole exception of the God-man, Christ Jesus our Lord, are sinful by nature and express that inward sinfulness in willful transgressions as soon as they reach the age of accountability. This fact is proved by-
1. The Universal Need of Repentance, Faith, and Regeneration.
Luke 13:3; John 8:24; Acts 16:30,31; Heb. 11:6; John 3:3,18.
2. Plain Scripture Declarations.
III. THE EXTENT OF SIN IN MAN'S BEING
1. TOTAL DEPRAVITY NEGATIVELY CONSIDERED.
(1) That man by nature is utterly devoid of conscience.
Even the heathen has conscience. Rom. 2:15.
(2) That man by nature is destitute of all of those qualities that are praiseworthy according to human standards.
Jesus recognized the presence of such qualities in a certain rich man (Mark 10:21).
(3) That every man is by nature prone to every form of sin.
This is impossible, for some forms of sin exclude others. "The sin of miserliness may exclude the sin of luxury; the sin of pride may exclude the sin of sensuality" (Strong).
(4) That men are by nature incapable of engaging in acts that are externally conformed to the law of God.
(5) That men are as corrupt as they might be.
They may and do grow worse. 2 Tim. 3:13.
(6) Moreover total depravity does not mean that there is depravity or corruption of the substance or essence of the soul.
Total depravity consists only of a moral perversion of all the facilities of the soul as we shall now see. It is the sinful bent of these faculties that gives to man a sinful nature. To say that one cannot affirm that man has a sinful nature without attributing sin to the substance of the soul is to deny that there is any such thing as moral character. Perhaps that which happened in the fall of the race cannot be better expressed than in the following words from Delitzsch; "In consequence of the first sin, the internal nature of man became possessed by death, by the dissolution of the previous unity of the manifold powers reciprocally acting in the life of the spirit and soul; and by the disappearance of the spiritual life in God's image, and its reflection in the soul. Hitherto God's love filled the spirit's will, thought and feeling: this threefold divinely filled life of the spirit was the holy image of the Godhead in man. But when Satanic thoughts of a loveless God found entrance into man's mind, then entered enmity . . . into the place of love, and Turba [confusion, devastation, destruction] in the place of peace: the powers of the soul fell into confusion, and kindled in passionate eagerness opposed to God" (A System of Biblical Psychology, p. 153). This fallen condition of man is further elucidated by Strong as follows: "In fine, man no longer made God the end of his life. While he retained the power of self-determination in subordinate things, he lost that freedom which consisted in the power of choosing God as his ultimate aim. The intuitions of the reason were abnormally obscured, since these intuitions, so far as they are concerned with moral and religious truth, are conditioned upon a right state of the affections; and--as a necessary result of this obscuring of reason--conscience, which as the moral judiciary of the soul, decides upon the basis of law given it by reason, became perverse in its deliverances. Yet this inability to judge or act aright, since it was a moral inability springing ultimately from will, was itself hateful and condemnable" (Systematic Theology p. 307). In man today this inherited moral inability sprang from the will of Adam which was the will of the race; therefore our will. 1 Cor. 15:22; Rom. 1:12,16-19.
Let us note the Biblical proof of the foregoing as we consider:
2. TOTAL DEPRAVITY CONSIDERED POSITIVELY.
Total depravity means that sin has permeated every faculty of man's being just as a drop of poison would permeate every molecule of a glass of water. Sin has warped every faculty in man, and thus it taints his every act.
A. Man is Depraved in Mind. Gen. 6:5.
B. In Heart. Jer. 17:9.
C. In Affections so that He is Averse to God. John 3: 19; Rom. 8:7.
D. In Conscience. Titus 1:15; Heb. 10:22.
F. Depraved from Head to Foot. Isa. 1:5,6.
C. Depraved when Born. Psa. 51:5; Psa. 58:3.
(2) The Effect of Total Depravity.
A. No Remnant of Good Remains in Man by Nature. Rom. 7: I&
C. Man is by Nature Spiritually Dead. Rom. 5:12; Col. 2:16; 1 John 3:14.
E. Hence He Cannot Until Quickened by the Spirit of God, Turn From Sin to God in Godly Penitence and Faith. Jer. 13:23; John 6:44,65; 12:39,40.
The basis of depravity and spiritual inability lies in the heart. It is deceitful and incurably wicked (Jer. 17:9). Out of the heart are the issues of life (Prov. 4:23). No one can bring a clean thing out of an unclean one (Job 14:4). Hence neither holiness nor faith can proceed from the natural heart. Good things proceed from a good heart and evil things proceed from an evil heart (Matt. 7:17,18; Luke 6:45).
3. TOTAL DEPRAVITY DEFENDED.
This was propounded by Pelagius, a British monk, at Rome in 409. Some of the features of Pelagianism were not original with Pelagius. However, he was the ablest and most thorough exponent of the system as a whole.
Pelagius taught that every human soul is directly created of God. This is Creationism, which was held also by Aristotle and Jerome, as opposed to Traducianism, propounded by Tertullian and tacitly assumed by Augustine. Logically, then, Pelagius felt obliged to consider the soul of a baby free from evil tendencies. But he was wholly illogical in considering the soul of an infant as merely innocent instead of positively holy. The holiness of God forbids the supposition that He can create a being that is merely innocent, just as surely as it forbids the supposition that He can create an evil being. But Pelagius thought holiness could not be created. See Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10; 2 Pet. 1:4. Adam was created in the image of God, and that, as we have seen, means more than mere innocence. Only arbitrary reasoning can lead any Creationist to believe that the human soul at its origination is merely innocent.
According to Pelagianism the only effect the sin of Adam had upon the race lies in the effect of the evil example set by him. Adam's sin was in no way our sin, and we do not inherit corrupt natures from him; the only corruption of human nature being from persistent personal disobedience to known law.
As would be expected, Pelagius taught that man is able to obey the law of God, and that salvation can come by the law as well as by the gospel. He believed that such men as Abel, Enoch, Joseph, Job, and even Socrates and Aristides were saved by obeying God's law. God was wholly excluded from man's inner life, and could reach man only through external means.
This theory requires no detailed or extended refutation. The student will see at once that it is the very antithesis of Bible teaching in all of its phases. Let us dismiss it with this penetrating characterization from Dorner: "It is Deism, applied to man's nature. God cannot enter man's being if he would, and he would not if he could. Free will is everything" (System of Doctrine, 2:38).
This system was elaborated by Arminius, a Dutch theologian (1560-1609), who served as a professor in the University of Leyden, in South Holland. Few, if any, of the elements of Arminianism were original with Arminius. Origen based election on God's foresight of the believer's works. Moreover Arminius leaned toward Semi-Pelagianism.
Arminius taught that men are born without original righteousness and with inherent evil tendencies; and are, therefore, wholly unable of themselves to obey God or attain eternal life. The natural state of the infant may be called sinful, but it does not involve guilt because it is physical and intellectual rather than voluntary. Moreover it does not spring from our racial unity with Adam. Adam's sin was not our sin. We inherit our infirmities from Adam by divine appointment.
As a matter of justice, according to Arminius, God has bestowed upon all men the special influence of the Holy Spirit (often called "gracious ability") from the beginning of consciousness, with which man has the power to cooperate and thus obey the will of God. It is only when a human being consciously refuses to cooperate with the special influence of the Holy Spirit that he becomes guilty before God. Original Arminianism was greatly modified by John Wesley. But Wesleyanism, on the whole, is just as flagrantly false as original Arminianism.
The same that was said of Pelagianism can be said of Arminianism. It needs no further refutation than that which is given in the truth of the Bible as set forth in the former portion of this chapter. In some respects it is simply extra-scriptural; in others it is anti-scriptural; while in others it is logically unsound.
(3) The New England or "New School" Theology.
This system represents an attempted compromise between Arminianism and Calvinism. It is called "New School" because it opposed the old school of Puritan anthropology as expounded by Edwards and Bellamy. It was built up through the successive labors of Hopkins, Emmons, Dwight, Taylor, and last of all by Charles C. Finney. This school opposed much of the truth taught by Edwards and then capitalized on his errors.
It is expedient that this school of theology be dealt with as it is represented by its most recent advocate, Charles C. Finney in Finney's Lectures on Systemaic Theology. This book has been highly and widely recommended to young Baptist preachers. Here are some samples of its deliverances: "Moral depravity cannot consist in any attribute of nature or constitution, not in any lapsed or fallen state of nature; for this is physical and not moral depravity." "It (moral depravity) cannot consist in anything back of choice, and that sustains to choice the relation of a cause. Whatever is back of choice is without the pale of legislation." "Moral depravity is sinfulness, not of nature, but of voluntary state." (pp. 230,231).
(A) They involve a denial of our participation in the apostasy of Adam, which is plainly taught in Rom. 5:12, as shown by later pertinent verses in the chapter. "Have sinned" translates a verb in the aorist tense in the Greek. Now the aorist tense can express action roughly equivalent to that which is expressed by the imperfect tense; but in view of the context of the passage the Revised Version dropped the word "have" and translated the Greek verb simply "sinned." To take this verb as referring to the personal sinning of each individual is to ruthlessly wrest the last clause of the passage from its connection with the first clause. Why is mention made of the fact that death came by Adam if our death is not the result of Adam's sin? This interpretation, moreover, "is inconsistent with ver. 13,14, which are intended to prove what is here asserted: but they do not prove that all have actually sinned, but rather the reverse" (Arnold, in An American Commentary on the New Testament). The meaning of Rom. 5:12 as contended for here is further borne out by 1 Cor. 15:22--"As in Adam all die . . ."
(B) They deny that sin exists as a state before there is a conscious choice of evil. Thus they deny that it is a sinful state that gives rise to sinful acts. This contradicts the principle enunciated by Jesus in Matt. 12:33, and implies that an apple tree is an apple tree because it bears apples and not vice versa. Jesus said that evil acts proceed out of the heart (Matt. 15:19), and the word "heart," when used in a moral or spiritual sense as it is here, refers to the affections, not the will. Thus Jesus affirmed that the will acts because of the affections. Jesus further taught this in John 3:19 in saying that men do not come to the light because they love darkness. Then Jer. 17:9 says that the natural heart is "desperately wicked." Furthermore Paul taught that his sins both of commission and omission were the result of sin dwelling in him, that is, in his carnal nature. Ro. 7:8,11,13,14,17,20. Paul's indwelling sin after he was saved was not there because his will was committed to it as his immanent preference or ultimate end;* it was there in spite of his will and hindered the executive volitions of his will. Naturally Mr. Finney was forced by the exigencies of his false system to deny that any part of Rom. 7 describes Paul's experience as a saved man. The fact that he must ignore and deny the plain meaning of the Bible to support his contentions is enough to show their utter falsity.
(C) They are false in their implied denial that the will of the natural man always acquiesces in the state of his nature. In the sense of immanent preference or as an ultimate end, a natural man always wills to be what he is. Otherwise he would not be free in being what he is, but would be under constraint from without; and would not be responsible. The sinner is blind (2 Cor. 4:3,4), not because at some point in his personal existence he made a deliberate choice to be blind. God says it is the Devil that has blinded him. How? By forcing blindness upon him from without? No; for that would destroy the free agency of the sinner. The Devil has blinded the sinner by blinding the race through the fall, from which the sinner has received his blindness by inheritance. Yet the sinner is responsible for his blindness. This could be true only upon the ground that his will acquiesces in the blindness. The same is true with regard to every evil tendency and disability of the sinner by nature.
(D) They are wrong in implying that a man's affections are under the control of his will. Jesus said men reject Him because of their affections. John 3:19. "Love is the fulfilling of the law" (Rom. 13:10). Why? The first part of the verse tells--"Love worketh no ill . . .," that is, love moves a man to do what is right. In other words, love controls action and that means that love controls the will. Thus the will is subject to the affections. A man does not choose to love in the final analysis. He loves because of what he is and because of what the object of his affections is. In the final analysis affections are spontaneous. This is not to say that a man's intellect, his faculty of knowing, has no part in determining his actions. His intellect is always involved in his affections.
any such thing as responsibility. To talk about the character of the will as a thing separate from the nature of the man to which the will belongs is to talk childish nonsense.
(F) They are wrong in that they affirm that lapsed and fallen nature is "physical and not moral depravity." In another place Mr. Finney defines "physical depravity" as being "depravity of substance as opposed to depravity of the actions of free will." This means that Mr. Finney denied that there can be such a thing as moral and spiritual disorder in the soul without a perversion of the very substance or essence of the soul. It means also that if there should be such a thing as moral or spiritual disorder, a setting of the soul in sin, involving a blinding of the mind and a perverting of the heart- in other words, a spiritual deadening of all the faculties of the soul, this would be physical depravity and not moral depravity, for which a man cannot be held responsible.