The Nature of Sin and the Sin of Adam

by A. A. Hodge

1. What are the only tests by which the answer to the question 'What is sin?' can be determined?

                1st. The word of God. 2nd. The intuitive judgments of men. The tests of the validity of these intuitions are (a) self–evidence, (b) universality, (c) necessity. The intuitive judgments of men are immediately passed not upon abstract notions nor upon general propositions, but upon concrete and individual instances. General maxims are generalized by the understanding from many individual intuitive convictions, and are true or false as this process of generalization has been well or badly done. The vast amount of confusion and error which prevails as to the nature of sin, and as to what comes under the category of sin, is due to crude generalization of general principles from individual intuitions, and the indiscriminate application of the maxim thus generated beyond the range to which they are guaranteed by the intuitions themselves. The maxims that all sin consists in voluntary action, and that ability is the measure of responsibility, are instances of this abuse. It is as absurd to attempt to make the bare understanding settle a question belonging only to the moral sense as it would be to make the nose decide a question of sound.—See M’Cosh, 'Intuitions of the Mind,' Book 1., ch. 2., §§ 4 and 5, and Book 4., ch. 2., §§ 1–3.

                2. What must a true definition of the nature of sin embrace?

                A definition of sin must— 1st. Include all that either the Word of God or an enlightened conscience decides to be sin. 2nd. It must include nothing else. Otherwise in either case it is false.

                3. State the definitions of Sin given. Turretin, and our Standards, and by Vitringa.

                Turretin, Locus 9, Ques. 1.—'Inclinatio, actio, vel omissio pugnans cum lege Dei, vel carens rectitudine legali debita in esse.' 'Confession Faith,' Ch. 6., § 6; 'Larger Catechism,' Q. 24; 'Shorter Catechism,' Q. 14. 'Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of the law of God.'

                Campejus Vitringa, Prof. Theo. in Franeker, died 1722.— 'Forma peccati est disconvenientia, actus, habitue, ant status hominis cum divine lege.'

                This last excellent definition embraces two constituent propositions.— 1st. Sin is any and every want of conformity with the moral law of God, whether of excess or defect, whether of omission or commission.

                2nd. Sin is any want of conformity of the moral states and habits as well of the actions of the human soul with the law of God?

                4. What is Law? And what is the Law of God?

                The word law is used in a great many and in very different senses. It is used by natural philosophers often to express— 1st. A general fact, e.g., the general fact that all matter attracts all matter inversely as the square of the distance. 2nd. An established order of sequence in which certain events occur, as the order of the seasons, and any established order of nature. 3rd. The mode of acting of a specific force, as the law of electrical induction, etc. 4th. A spontaneous order of development, as the internal self–acting law of the growth of animals and plants from the seed.

                The moral law of God, however, is not an internal, self–regulating principle of man’s moral nature, like the feigned inner light of the Quakers, but an imperial standard of moral excellence imposed upon mankind from without and from above them by the supreme authority of a personal moral Governor over personal moral subjects. It involves (a) a certain degree of enlightenment as to truth and duty, (b) a rule of action regulating the will and binding the conscience, (c) armed with sanctions, or imperative motives constraining to obedience.

                5. Prove that sin is any want of conformity to 'Law.'

                1st.  Whenever we sin conscience condemns us for not coming up to a standard which we intuitively recognize as morally obligatory upon us. Conscience implies (a) moral accountability, and hence subjection to a moral Governor, and (b) a standard to which we ought to be conformed. The conscience itself; as the organ of God’s law, contains the law written on the heart.

                2nd.  the idea of sin שֵׂטִיס שֵׂט from שָׂטָה to deviate from the way. חָטָא to miss the mark, ἁμαρτάνω to err, to miss the mark, παραβάσις (Gal. 3:19), a going aside from, a transgresssion.

                3rd.   It is explicitly asserted in Scripture, 'Every one that doeth sin, also doeth τὴν ἀνομίαν, and sin is ἀνομία.' —Romans 4:15.

                6. Prove that sin is any want of conformity to the moral Law Of God.

                As above shown this is implied in the action of conscience. It testifies to a law imposed upon us by an authority external to us, the supreme authority of God. In the absence of all supernatural revelation it has led all heathen nations to the recognition of the authority of God, or of gods exercising government, to a belief in rewards and punishments administered by God, and hence to expiatory and propitiatory rites.

                It is also asserted by David that sin of any kind is disobedience and dishonor done to God.—See fifty–first Psalm.

                Hence sin is not a mere violation of the law of our own constitution, nor of the system of things, but an offense against a personal Lawgiver and moral Governor, who vindicates his law with penalties. The soul that sins is always conscious that his sin is (a) intrinsically vile and polluting, and (b) that it justly deserves punishment and calls down the righteous wrath of God. Hence sin carries with it two inalienable characters—(a) ill–desert, guilt, reatus, (b) pollution, macula.

                7. Show that this Law, any want of conformity to which is sin, demands absolute moral perfection.

                This is necessarily involved in the very essence of moral obligation. The very essence of right is that it ought to be.  The very essence of wrong is that it ought not to be. If anything be indifferent it is not moral, and if it be moral it is a matter of obligation. This being of the essence of right it is, of course, true of each consistent part as well as of the whole. Any degree short of full conformity with the highest right is therefore of the nature of sin. 'For whosoever shall keep the whole law and yet offend in one point is guilty of all.'—James 2:10. The old maxim is true, Omne minus bonum habet rationem mali.

                It evidently follows from this principle that the Romish doctrine of works of Supererogation is absurd as well as wicked, since if these works are obligatory they are not supererogatory, and if they are not obligatory they are not moral, and if not moral they can have no moral value. Hence also all those Perfectionists who admit that men are not now able to keep perfectly the law of absolute moral perfection, while they maintain that Christians may in this life live without sin, obviously use incorrect and misleading language.

                8. Prove that any want of conformity with this Law in the states and permanent habit of soul, as well as in its acts, is sin.

                1st.  This is proved by the common judgments of all men. All judge that the moral state of the heart determines the moral character of the actions, and that the moral character of the actions discloses the moral state of the heart, and that a man whose acts are habitually profane, or malignant, or impure, is himself in the permanent state of his heart profane, or malignant, or impure.

                2nd.  The same is proved by the common religious experience of all Christians. This experience always involves conviction of sin, and conviction of sin involves as its most uniform and prominent element not merely a conviction that our actions fail to come up to the proper standard of excellence, but a sense that in the depths of our nature, below and beyond the reach of volition, we are spiritually dead and polluted, and impotent and insensible to divine things, and worthy of condemnation therefore. Every Christian has been brought with Paul to cry out, 'O wretched man that I am: who shall deliver me from the body of this death?'—Romans 7:24. This finds expression, and this principle for which we are contending finds proof in all the prayers, supplications, confessions, and in all the hymns and devotional literature of Christians of all ages and denominations.

                3rd.  The Scriptures explicitly call the permanent states of the soul 'sin' when they are not conformed to the law of God. Sin and its lusts are said to reign in the mortal body; the members are the instruments of sin; the unregenerate are the servants of sin.—Romans 6:12–17. The disposition or permanent 'tendency' to sin is called 'flesh' as opposed to 'spirit,' Galatians 5:17; also 'lust,' James 1:14,15; 'old Adam,' and 'body of sin,' 'ignorance,''blindness of heart,' 'alienation from the life of God,' and 'a condition of being past feeling,' Ephesians 4:18,19.

                9. Show that the very first spontaneous motions of concupiscence are sin?

                1st.  The heart of the Christian often for the moment spontaneously lusts for evil when the conscience promptly condemns and the will forbids and restrains and diverts the attention. Although the man does not consent to the sin that is present in him, nevertheless the Christian feels that such movements of concupiscence are unholy, and worthy of condemnation, and he not only resists them but condemns and loathes himself because of them, and seeks to be purged from them at once by the atoning blood, and the sanctifying spirit of Jesus.

                2nd.  Concupiscence is called 'sin 'in Scripture. 'I had not known sin, but by the law, for I had not known ἐπιθυμίαν (concupiscence) except the law had said thou shalt not ἐπιθυμήσεις.' Also τὰ παθήματα τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν, 'the motions of sin,' and 'the law in the members,' and 'sin that dwelleth in me,' that worketh without 'my consent,' which 'works all manner of concupiscence,' etc.—Romans 7:5–24.

                10. What is the FIRST great mystery connected with the origin of sin?

                How or why was the existence of sin tolerated in the creation of a God at once eternal, self–existent, and infinite in wisdom, power, holiness, and benevolence?

                All the attempted solutions of this enigma which have been entertained in our day have been summed up by Prof. Haven of Chicago as follows:

                Either God cannot prevent sin, i.e., either (a) in any system, (b) in a moral system involving free agency.

                Or for some reason God does not choose to prevent sin, i.e., either because (a) its existence is of itself desirable, (b) or though not in itself desirable it is the necessary means of the greatest good, or (c) though not in itself tending to good it may be overruled to that result, or (d) because, in general terms, its permission will involve less evil than its absolute prevention.

                It is obvious (a) that God has permitted sin, and (b) hence it was right for him to do so. But why it was right must ever remain a mystery demanding submission and defying solution.

                11. What was the Manichoean doctrine as to the origin of sin?

                They held the opinion that sin had its ground in some eternal, self–existent principle independent of God, either matter or self–existent devil. This doctrine is inconsistent (a) with the independence, infinitude, and sovereignty of God; (b) with the nature of sin as essentially the revolt of a created free will from God. Sin is an element of perverted moral agency. To consider it an attribute of matter is to deny it. All the Christian fathers united in opposing Manichæism and in maintaining that sin is the product of the free will of man alone.

                12. State the doctrine of St. Augustine with respect to the privative nature of sin.

                St. Augustine held— 1st. That God is the creator of all entities and the absolutely sovereign Governor of all moral agents and of all their actions; and 2nd. That nevertheless God is in no sense either the author or the cause of sin. In order to reconcile these he held, 3rd. That sin is not an entity, but is in its essence simply a defect. His dictum, which hence has passed into general currency with all classes of theologians, was Nihil est malum nisi privatio boni (Nothing is evil unless it lacks good). They have property distinguished between 'negation' and 'privation.' Negation is the absence of that which does not belong to the nature of the subject, as sight to a stone. Privation is the absence of that which belonging to the nature of the subject is necessary to its perfection, as sight to a man.

                Sin therefore is privative because it originates in the absence of those moral qualities which ought to be present in the states and actions of a free, responsible, moral agent.

                It is to be remembered, however, that the inherent depravity which 'comes from a defective or privative cause' instantly assumes a positive form, from the essentially active nature of the human soul. In a passive condition of being, a defect might remain purely negative. But in a ceaselessly active being, and one acting under ceaseless moral obligations, a moral defect must instantly become a positive vice. Not to love God is to hate him. Not to be in all things conformed to his will is to rebel against him, and to break his law at all points.—See Edwards, 'Original Sin,' pt. 4. sec. 2.

                13. What is the Pelagian doctrine as to the nature of sin?

                The Pelagian view of sin, which has been rejected by all branches of the Christian Church, is— 1st. That law can command only volitions. 2nd. That states of the soul can be commanded only in so far as they are the direct effect of previous volitions. 3rd. Hence that sin consists simply in acts of volition. 4th. That whatever a man has not plenary ability to do he is under no obligation to do. 5th. That there is no such thing, therefore, as innate depravity. 6th. That since a volition to be moral or the subject of approbation or of condemnation, must be a pure self–decision of the will, it follows that sin is beyond the absolute control of God.

                14. In what sense is the dictum that 'all sin is voluntary' true, and in what sense false?

                It all turns upon the sense of the phrase 'Voluntary.' If it be in the Pelagian sense restricted to 'acts of volition;' then the dictum that 'all sin is voluntary' is false. If, however, it is used so as to include the spontaneous dispositions, tendencies, and affections which constitute the permanent character of the soul, and which prompt to and decide the nature of the volitions, then all sin is voluntary, because all sin has its ground and spring in these spontaneous tendencies and dispositions, i.e., in the permanent moral states of the soul.

                15. State the peculiarities of the Romish position upon this subject, and also that of the Arminian Perfectionists

                The Roman Church agrees with all Protestants in holding that all the habits and permanent dispositions as well as the actions of the soul which are not conformed to the law of God are sinful. But it is a prominent characteristic of their doctrine that they hold that moral condition of soul which remains in the regenerate as the consequence of original sin, and the fomes or feel of actual sin, is not properly of the nature of sin. They maintain that the first spontaneous movement of this concupiscence is not sin in itself and not to be treated as such —but that it becomes the cause of sin as soon as its solicitations are entertained and translated into action by the will.—'Cat. of Council of Trent,' Pt. 2., ch. 2., Q. 42.

                The Arminians avail themselves of the same positions when defending their doctrine of Christian Perfection. Wesley (in 'Meth. Doc. Tracts,' pp. 294–312) distinguishes between 'sin properly so called, i.e., voluntary transgression of known law, and sin improperly so called, i.e., involuntary transgression of law, known or unknown,' and declares, 'I believe there is no such perfection in this life as excludes these involuntary transgressions, which I apprehend to be naturally consequent upon the ignorance and mistakes inseparable from mortality.'

                THE SIN OF ADAM

                16. What is the SECOND great mystery connected with the origin of sin?

                How could sin originate in the will of a creature created with a positively holy disposition?

                The difficulty is to reconcile understandingly the fact that sin did so originate—

                1st.  With the known constitution of the human will. If the volitions are as the prevalent affections and desires, and if the affections and desires excited by outward occasions are good or evil, according to the permanent moral state of the will, how could a sinful volition originate in a holy will? or how could the permanent state of his soul become spontaneously unholy?

                2nd.  With universal experience. As it is impossible that a sinful desire or volition should originate in the holy will of God, or in the holy will of saints and angels, or that a truly holy affection or volition should originate in the depraved wills of fallen men without supernatural regeneration (Luke 6:43–45), how could a sinful volition originate in the holy will of Adam?

                That Adam was created with a holy yet fallible will, and that he did fall, are facts established by divine testimony. We must believe them, although we cannot rationally explain them. This is for us impossible— 1st. Because there remains an inscrutable element in the human will, adopt whichever theory of it we may.

                2nd. Because all our reasoning must be based upon consciousness, and no other man ever had in his consciousness the experience of Adam. The origin of our sinful volitions is plain enough. But we lack some of the data necessary to explain his case.

                In the way of approximation, however, we may observe— 1st. It is unsound to reason from the independent will of the infinite God to the dependent will of the creature.

                2nd. The infallibility of saints and angels is not inherent, but is a superinduced confirming grace of God.

                They are not in a state of probation. Adam was—his will was free, but not confirmed.

                3rd. The depraved will of man cannot originate holy affections and volitions, because the presence of: a positively holy principle is necessary to constitute them holy. But, on the other hand, there were already in the holy will of Adam many principles morally indifferent, in themselves neither good nor bad, and becoming sinful only when, in default of the control of reason and conscience, they prompt to their indulgence in ways forbidden by God; e.g., admiration and appetite for the fruit, and desire for knowledge. The sin commenced the moment that, under the powerful persuasion of Satan, these two motives were dwelt upon in spite of the prohibition, and thus allowed to become so prevalent in the soul as temporarily to neutralize reverence for God’s authority, and fear of his threatening.

                4th. Adam, although endowed with a holy disposition, was inexperienced in the assaults of temptation.

                5th. He was assailed through the morally indifferent principles of his nature by a vastly superior intelligence and character, to whom, in the highest sense, the origin of all sin must be referred.

                17. What appears from the history of the Fall to have been the precise nature of the first sin of Adam?

                It appears from the record (Genesis 3:1–6) that the initial influences inducing our first parents, in their first transgression, were in themselves considered morally indifferent. These were— 1st. Natural appetite for the attractive fruit. 2nd. Natural desire for knowledge. 3rd. The persuasive power of Satan upon Eve, including the known influence of a superior mind and will. 4th. The persuasive power of both Satan and Eve upon Adam. Their dreadful sin appears to have been essentially— 1st. Unbelief, they virtually made God a liar. 2nd. Deliberate disobedience, they set up their will as a law in place of his.

                18. What relation did God sustain to Adam’s sin?

                Concerning the relation sustained by God to the sin of Adam all we know is— 1st. God created Adam holy, with all natural powers necessary for accountable agency. 2nd. He rightfully withheld from him, during his probation, any higher supernatural influence necessary to render him infallible. 3rd. He neither caused nor approved Adam’s sin. 4th. He sovereignly decreed to permit him to sin, thus determining that he should sin as he did.

                19. What was the effect of Adam’s sin upon himself?

                1st.  In the natural relation which Adam sustained to God as the subject of his moral government, his sin must have instantly had the effect of (1) displeasing and alienating God, and (2) of depraving his own soul.

                2nd.  In the covenant relation which Adam sustained to God the penalty of the covenant of works was incurred, i. e., death, including, (1) mortality of body, (2) corruption of soul, (3) sentence of eternal death.

                20. In what sense did he become totally depraved, and how could total depravity result from onesin?

                By the affirmation that total depravity was the immediate result of Adam’s first sin, it is not meant that he became as bad as he could be, or even as corrupt as the best of his unregenerate descendants; but it is meant—1st. His apostasy from God was complete. God demands perfect obedience; Adam was now a rebel in arms.

                2nd. That the favor and communion of God, the sole condition of his spiritual life, was withdrawn.

                3rd. A schism was introduced into the soul itself. The painful reproaches of conscience were excited, and could never be allayed without an atonement. This led to fear of God, distrust, prevarication, and, by necessary consequence, to innumerable other sins.

                4th. Thus the whole nature became depraved. The will being at war with the conscience, the understanding became darkened; the conscience, in consequence of constant outrage and neglect, became seared; the appetites of the body inordinate, and its members instruments of unrighteousness.

                5th. There remained in man’s nature no recuperative principle; he must go on from worse to worse, unless God interpose.

                Thus the soul of man being essentially active, although one sin did not establish a confirmed habit, it did alienate God and work confusion in the soul, and thus lead to an endless course of sin.

                THE CONSEQUENCES OF ADAM’S SIN TO HIS POSTERITY are— 1st. The judicial charging of the legal responsibility of that sin upon all at their creation whom he represented in the Covenant of Works. 2nd. The consequent birth of each of his descendants in a state of exclusion from the life–giving communion of the divine Spirit. 3rd. The consequent loss of original righteousness, and the inherent and prevailing tendency to sin which is the invariable moral condition of each of his descendants from birth. 4th. The absolute moral inability of men to change their natures or to fulfill their obligations.

                For reasons which will appear subsequently, the subjects connected with man’s natural moral corruption and impotency, are discussed before the subject of Imputation, or the reason and method of the passing over of the consequences of Adam’s sin from him to his descendants.

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