Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

come into the world. They have, moreover, lost all freedom to do good, and are free only to do evil, and that continually, until regenerated by the immediate interposition of almightyGod. This was the doctrine which the chief Reformers laid down, and which was eventually received and maintained, by nearly all the protestant churches, in its most naked and appalling terms. Whoever, at the present day, departs from this standard, precludes himself from the boast of adhering to the 'doctrines of the Reformation.'

Should it be asked, whence this strange hypothesis arose, from what materials or by what process Luther, Calvin and their coadjutors formed such a scheme, — the answer is, they did not form it, but took it entire from some of the early fathers of the Roman Catholic Church, on whose authority indeed they taught it, as well as on the alleged testimony of certain texts of Scripture which we shall have occasion to mention.

Somewhat more than a century after the Reformation, the famous Assembly of Divines met at Westminster, and reduced the orthodox religion to a creed, which was for a long time the standard of doctrine for Britain and America. By examining their labored definition of original sin, we shall see that this

foint had suffered no perceptible variation, from the time of iuther and Calvin. In their Larger Catechism, they say,

'The covenant being made with Adam, as a public person, not for himself only, but for his posterity, all mankind descending from him by ordinary generation, sinned in him, and fell with him in that first transgression.

'The fall brought mankind into a state of sin and misery.

'The sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell, consisteth in the guilt of Adam's first sin, the want of that righteousness wherein he was created, and the corruption of his nature, whereby he is utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite unto all that is spiritually good, and wholly inclined unto all evil, and that continually, which is commonly called original sin, and from which do proceed all actual transgressions.

'Original sin is conveyed from our first parents unto their posterity by natural generation, so as all that proceed from them in that way are conceived and born in'sin.

'The fall brought upon mankind the loss of communion with God, his displeasure and curse, so as we are by nature children of wrath, bond slaves to Satan, and justly liable to all punishments in this world, and that which is to come.'

Such is the doctrine which formerly prevailed in all our churches, and which is still retained by some, especially at the South. In its support, a host of texts was adduced, most of which had no apparent relation to the subject. A few, however, seemed to resemble, in their language, some of these propositions I; "andj'when a tenet has once become current, such a resemblance id enough to fix the application of any passage, how monstrous soever the idea. Thus, David says, ' Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me;' this proved that mankind, since the fall, were born in sin. St. Paul reminds the Ephesians that they ' were by nature children of wrath, even as others ;' this proved that our very nature, that is, the original constitution of our being as individuals, provokes God's wraths Iiwas in vain that the opponents alleged that these texts were susceptible of a very different and rational interpretation; in vain did they expose the absurdity and flagrant injustice of the doctrine itself. Their arguments were pronounced frivolous, sometimes; 'wicked; and their disbelief of the mystery was treated as an^uMhing heresy.

It was impossible, however, that its advocates themselves should not feel the difficulties presented by so outrageous an hypothesis ; and in spite of the anathemas by which it was guarded, a modification at length took place, and was gradually received by some, but rejected, with indignation, by others. About the middle of the last century, that profound metaphysician, President Edwards, revised the orthodox system at large; and among the rest of its tenets, subjected the doctrine of original sin to his acute and subtil treatment. He admitted, what had hitherto been stoutly denied, that no man can, in the nature of things, be guilty, except for his own actor indulgence. And yet he maintained, to the full extent, that all mankind are guilty of Adam's sin, and are, on that account, under the wrath and curse of God, he. 8ic. How did he reconcile tilts contradiction? Why, hy contending that in some physical or metaphysical sense, (nobody knows what to call it,) all mankind are one with Adam, so that his act is theirs. By the divine appointment, all the individuals of our race constitute but a single unity, like that of a tree, of which Adam may be regarded as the root, and his posterity, in different ages, the trunk, limbs, branches, leaves, &c. all partaking in the qualities and motions of the root. So it seems, he was aware that it would be unjust in God to hold us accountable for the

act of another, yet thought it would be perfectly just, by some arbitrary arrangement, to constitute us, in the first place, one with that other, and then make us accountable for his act, though we had no more control over it, than if such arrangement had never existed. As though a fiction could alter the nature of things! By this ingenious device, however, the President flattered himself that he could elude all objections on the ground of justice, and at the same time maintain the doctrine of original sin in all its native monstrousness. Again: he acknowledged it an immutable law in the nature of things, that we are under no obligation to do what we have no ability to perform. How, then, did he support his proposition, that in our natural state we cannot obey God, and yet are altogether guilty for the neglect? By drawing that distinction, which had never before been made, between the natural and the moral ability of the sinner, and which is perpetually appealed to, for the same purpose at the present day. Man is born, we are told, with all the natural power necessary to obey God, such as understanding, conscience, activity; but then he has not the moral power; and this want leaves him absolutely incapable, and, worse than all, constitutes his guilt instead of his excuse. By this paradox it was intended to remove both the objection and the injustice of requiring of the sinner what he had no power to perform, but still to leave him as 'disabled,' and at the same time as criminal, as on the old scheme. One might ask, however, what sort of ability that is, which is, at once, both sufficient and utterly insufficient to the attainmeut of a given object.

The doctrine then, as it was left by Edwards, did not differ from that of the Assembly's Catechism, except in the nice distinctions, that nil mankind sinned in Adam by virtue of their being one with him, instead of his being merely 'a public person,' their federal head; and that the moral powers only of their nature were totally corrupted and disabled, instead of their whole nature. Still, these modifications were at first much opposed, and the admissions, on which we have seen that they were founded, Were thought exceedingly dangerous. Nor has this apprehension as yet entirely subsided with all.

The celebrated Dr. Hopkins immediately entered on the scheme of Edwards, and, without altering it, developed and illustrated it with so much skill and industry that it has been usually called by his name. His labors, with those of succeeding authors, served to commend it to a reception with many of the churches of New England, and to a partial admission in the other sections of the United States, and in Great Britain. With regard to original sin, Dr. Hopkins gives the following statements:

'Adam was considered and treated as comprehending all mankind. His disobedience was the disobedience of the whole, of all mankind; and the threatened penalty did not respect Adam personally, or as a single individual, but his whole posterity included in him, and represented by him. Therefore, the transgression being the transgression of the whole, brought the threatened punishment on all mankind.

'There is no reasonable objection to this constitution, in that it not only established a connexion between the sin of Adam and the sinning of his posterity, but that the latter should be born in sin, so as to begin to sin as soon as they begin to act as moral agents

'If by being his children they become corrupt, they muft of consequence be corrupt as soon as they exist or become his children ....

'Mankind are born totally corrupt or sinful, in consequence of the apostacy of Adam; that is, they have naturally, as the children of Adam, no degree or kind of moral rectitude, and their hearts arc full of moral evil.'

In this state, or in that in which the Westminster Assembly left it, has the doctrine remained among the orthodox, till within a few years. Everybody knows the objections that have been urged against it by the more liberal sects of Christians: that it is just as impossible we should be guilty of Adam's sin, as of the sin of any other ancestor, or indeed of all mankind; that guilt cannot be propagated by 'ordinary generation;' that it would be against all justice to ' impute' to us the transgression of one over whom we had no possible control or influence; that were we born with natures depraved, it would be our misfortune, not our fault; and that did we come into being wholly depraved, it would necessarily absolve us from all obligation to virtue. And everybody knows, too, how these objections have been treated: as the expression of a wicked heart, as evidence of enmity towards God, and insubordination to his sovereign counsel.

Within the present generation, however, a change was very perceptible in the public treatment of this subject. Many of the orthodox divines observed an unwonted caution in their phraseology. Original sin they seldom, if ever, mentioned by name. They spoke of moral, not total, depravity: an omission winch might be referred to Edwards' scheme, but which might also denote something else. Some avoided the phrase, native depravity, and the corresponding terms. This hesitation was by no means universal: we speak only of a certain class of the orthodox; but they were of high standing among their brethren. About four or five years ago, the New Haven school of divines began to come out into open view. They struck at the root, denying the former doctrine of original sin altogether, and maintaining, what is self-evident in the nature of things, that mankind begin their existence, innocent, with natures neither guilty nor sinful, and that they are, in no sense, accountable for Adam's transgression. They contend ex

Eressly that we came into the world with the same nature, in ind, as that with which Adam was created. Contrary, however, to what we might expect from so fair a commencement, they still hold, in order to fall in with some of the results of the old scheme, that as soon as the child becomes a moral agent, his first act and all his subsequent acts in this character, will be uniformly and certainly sinful, until he is regenerated. Touse their own language: His nature is not itself sinful, and yet it will produce sin, and sin only; that is, after he becomes a moral agent. And this invariable consequence they think is owing, in some way which they do not define, to peculiar circumstances of our present being, which were occasioned by Adam's transgression. Such is the mongrel hypothesis of the New Haven divines. Their explicit denial of original sin, has roused the thunders of the southern orthodox, especially those of Princeton, against them, and wakened the clamors of many of the northern clergy; but in the midst of the tumultl Professor Stuart, of Andover, has come forward with the weight of his influence, and taken the same ground. He regards all idea of hereditary guilt, birth-sin, accountability for Adam's transgression, or imputation of it to us, as downright absurdity, and repeats, at considerable length, the arguments that have been urged against these notions by liberal christians. Coming from him, they will probably be treated by his brethren with more civility than heretofore. He says,

'According to the common theory of imputation,. . . the sin of one man is charged upon all his posterity, who are condemned to everlasting death because of it, antecedent to, and indepen

« AnteriorContinuar »