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and difficult, namely, why the Almighty permits the existence of sin at all?
My brethren, this question has been often asked, and never satisfactorily answered. It is a question which can seldom be asked without peril: 'Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker'—' Shall the clay say .to him that fashioneth it, w'hat makest thou?' And, perhaps, it is a question which ought not to be answered, partly because the enquiry usually savors of an impious and refractory temper, which ought not to be indulged, and still more, because the answer Cannot be supported by the clear authority of the Word of God, but must be, to a great degree, conjectural. Nevertheless, if the enquiry be made with modest humility, and the answer be given in reverence and fear, it may be .serviceable in justifying the ways of God to man. Let me, then, ask your serious attention to an hypothesis, which seems, in my mind, to remove all difficulty from the question, Why does the Deity permit the existence of sin? The answer we should give is derived from the language of the great Redeemer, 'It must needs be that offences come, but woe to him by whom the offence cometh.' It Must Needs Be; that is, it exists by necessity. If it were possible to have created intelligent beings, such as angels and men, with a moral incapacity for sinning, we presume it would have been done. But this we conceive clearly impossible in the nature of the case, because it implies a Contradiction. This we shall now endeavor to explain.
In the characteristics of spiritual existence as known to us, whether in angels or men, those which are pre-eminent are the understanding, and the affections of love and joy. In these consists their resemblance to the Great Creator, for he is all wisdom, all love, and all happiness; and by imparting to them a certain share of these high attributes, he was pleased to make spirits and men in his own likeness. Of these attributes, Love is the chief. God is love, essentially and emphatically ; and in the power of knowing and loving God and his works, consisted all the dignity, and glory, and joy of angels and men. Here is the dividing line between brutes and intelligent creatures. The brute has his instinct, his sagacity, his memory, and a certain kind of reasoning power, but all this is merely animal and bodily: he cannot know his Maker, nor love him, nor partake in his felicity. These are the privileges of spirits; and as the spirit comes from God, so the attributes of spiritual life are the reflection and the image of his own.
Now, then, the question at once arises, why did not the great Creator, foreseeing the evil likely to ensue from transgression, bind his spiritual creatures within a circle of necessity, resembling the law of instinct in animal life, which should have rendered it impossible for them ever to rebel against him? Why did he leave them free to sin, when this freedom must render them liable to punishment and misery? We answer, because the high attributes of spiritual life, in which consisted all the glory and happiness of angels and men, were not susceptible of restraint. How could spiritual love be bound and chained? How could spiritual wisdom be fettered, or spiritual joy confined within instinctive limits, like the fleshly appetites of a brute? The thing is impossible in its own nature—impossible, Not From Any Want Of Power in the Almighty, but because it imports a Contradiction In Terms. Hence, as the Spirit of God, and love, the primary attribute of that spirit, were infinitely free, so when he breathed the spirit of his life into angels and men, and gave the same attribute of love to these his intelligent creatures, that spirit and that attribute were by the inherent necessity of their own divine nature, free likewise, bearing as well the image of the liberty, as of the glory of their Maker. And hence, also, although it was possible to guide those spirits by the influence of motives, to govern them by laws, and to support them by the gracious power which gave them being, it was impossible to force their obedience by any conceivable species of control.'
Thus, called into an eternal existence by the love of their heavenly Father, love was not only their chief inheritance, but the primary law of their being, and therefore the first and great commandment of spiritual life must always have been, ' Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and soul, and mind, and strength, and thy fellow as thyself.' Their happiness consisted in their faithful obedience to this law, because they were not, like God, independent beings, who might lawfully love themselves supremely, and who could draw an inexhaustible supply of felicity from their own essence. On the contrary, they were necessarily dependent on God, who was the only source and fountain of all joy, and therefore as it was manifest that they should love supremely him who was alone entitled to supreme devotion, and him in whom their happiness consisted, this law must have been the governing rule to all from the beginning. In requiring this homage of the soul, the Deity not only demanded his undoubted right, but that which it was as much their joy as their duty to render him, and he could not have diminished one jot of this requisition, without diminishing, in a still greater proportion, the bliss and glory of his creatures.
Now here, precisely, lay the intrinsic difficulty. The affection of love, thus free, and thus regulated by laws and motives, was nevertheless exposed, by the necessity of the case, to a constant temptation, the Temptation Of LovIng SELF, BETTER THAN THE DEITY. Nor Could this
temptation be overcome by any thing other than the grace of the Holy Spirit, which, like the constant food of the soul, was essential to its nourishment and support. But the Holy Spirit carried no constraint in its kindly influences; and hence, if the created spirit ceased to invite and seek them, they must of necessity, be withdrawn; and then the temptation to love self supremely must undoubtedly prevail. As soon, therefore, as the affection of love became thus concentrated upon self, then would also arise a disposition to prefer the will of self, to the will of the Deity, and then would follow a disposition to rebel, to resist and to oppose him. In the immediate train of this self-love would unavoidably appear pride, envy, jealousy, hatred, malice, and revenge, which are all neither more nor less than modifications of the same self-love, under different circumstances; and as soon as a sufficient development of these evils became manifest, the angel must necessarily be transformed into a fiend, or the man into an open and determined transgressor.
This catastrophe, in the history of spiritual creation, was doubtless predicted and explained so far as it could be rendered intelligible without a living example. But when Satan fell, and drew with him a host of other spirits who had fallen along with himself under the same inevitable temptation, then arose the question which we are to answer, whether it were best for the happiness of the whole spiritual creation of God, to annihilate these fallen angels, or to suffer them to continue their existence as examples to the rest, from whose fate they might always learn the necessary lesson of watchfulness and faithful dependence upon the great Creator, and so be preserved by this additional safeguard, from the same sin and the same fall. And here we may readily conceive why it would manifestly be the better course, to permit the existence of these rebels, rather than to destroy them. For had God blotted them out of existence, in a little time the whole might have been forgotten in the spiritual world, and then the same temptation would have drawn others into sin, and so the work of destruction must have been renewed at intervals without end. Whereas, by allowing them to remain, and exhibit as much malice and rage as should show their misery and the inevitable consequences of transgression, they became a standing memorial to the angelic universe, and shall continue to administer, throughout eternity, to the safety, the wisdom, and the felicity of heaven.
Now it will readily be seen, that the same hypothesis will solve the difficulty which has been often urged in reference to the origin of sin in our world. Adam was a compound creature, consisting of spirit as well as matter, and was doubtless placed under the general law of all intelligent and spiritual creatures, the law of love towards God and towards' his fellow. His sin was the same with that which we have been describing, namely, the gradually loving of self in preference to his Creator; and then the outward temptation, which, through ' envy of the Devil,' communicated the sin from the soul to the body, and thus rendered the whole man a transgressor, brought upon him the same exclusion from the favor of God, and rendered him, in turn, a fit example, and a warning to all the other worlds which belonged to the same grade as our own, and to which the intelligence and consequences of his fall may have been communicated. Here, again, the same question would occur with regard to the mercy of annihilating the