Thomas Chalmers


ROMANS, v, 12 - 21.

"Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: (for until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come. But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many. And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offences unto justification. For if by one man's offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.) Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners; so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous. Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: that as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord."

ERE we proceed to the detailed explanation of these verses, it may be right to premise a few general remarks, on the way in which sin found entrance into our world; on the precise doctrinal amount of our informations from Scripture relative to this subject; and on the degree in which these informations are met by the experience of man, and the natural sense that is in his bosom, respecting guilt or demerit and condemnation.

We do feel this to be an enterprise of some difficulty and magnitude; and we fear, a little too unwleldy, for its being brought to a satisfying termination within the limits of one address. It seems, however, a suitable introduction to the task of expounding the passage that is now before us; and, however formidable the attempt of grappling with a doctrine so mysterious to some and so repulsive to others as that of original sin - we do think it right, frankly to state to you all that we think, and all that we know about it.

This doctrine, then, may be regarded in two different aspects - first as it respects the disposition to sin, and secondly as it respects the guilt of it. These two particulars, you will observe, are distinct from one another. To say that man has a tendency by nature to run into the commission of sin, is to say one thing - to say that by nature he is in a state of guilt or condemnation, is to say another. The act of sin is distinct from the punishment of sin. The disposition to it is a thing separate and apart from the desert of it. The corruption of human nature, means its tendency to sin. The guilt of them who wear that nature, means their evil desert on account of sin; and for which, when reckoned with, a penal sentence may justly be laid upon them. The one is a matter of fact which may be affirmed in the word of God; but which may also be verified by the experience of man. The other is a matter of principle, which may also be affirmed in Scripture; but which may also be taken cognlzance of, by the moral sense that resides and operates in the human bosom.

Now as to the fact of the sinful disposition in the nature of man, it can only be gathered - either from the sinful doings that appear in the history of man; or from the sinful desires, to the existence of which in his own heart, he has access by the light of consciousness, and in the hearts of others by the light of their testimony. Even though we had outward exhibition alone, we often have enough to infer and ascertain the inward tendency. We do not need to dig into a spring to ascertain the quality of its water, but to examine the quality of the stream which flows from it. We have no access, either by our own consciousness or by their communications, to the hearts of the inferior animals; and yet we can pronounce with the utmost confidence, from their doings and their doings alone, on the characteristic disposition which belongs to each of them. And so we talk of the faithfulness of the dog, and the ferocity of the tiger, and the gentleness of the dove, - ascribing to each a prior tendency of nature, from which there emanates the style of action that stands visibly forth in their outward histories.
Now this may lead us to understand in part, what is meant by the term original, as applied to the doctrine now under consideration. It is quite a current mode of expression, when one says that there is an original ferocity in the tiger. It means that, as the fountain on the hill-side is formed and filled up, before it sends forth the rills which proceed from it - so a ferocious quality of nature exists in the tiger before it vents itself forth in deeds of ferocity; and it is a quality not induced upon the animal by education; for, however left to itself, all of them evince it. Neither is it the fruit of any harsh or provoking treatment to which it is exposed; for, under every variety of treatment, or with no treatment at all, still is this the unfailing disposition of each individual belonging to the tribe. As little can it be ascribed to climate, or to accident, or to any thing posterior to the formation of the animal itself; for, under all these differences, we still behold the forth-putting of that characteristic fierceness that we are now speaking of. It may well be called original; for it would appear, both from the universality of this attribute, and from the unconquerable strength of it, that it belongs essentially to the creature; that from the very way in which it is put together at the first, from the very way in which the elements of its constitution are compounded, this fierce and fiery disposition is made to evolve itself. And just as the structure of the stomach necessarily gives rise to sensations of hunger, and hunger impels to deeds of voraciousness - so in the original frame of the animal, may there be an inherent temper of cruelty, which, ere it proceeds to devour its victim, leads it with savage delight to aggravate and prolong its sufferings.

There is no difficulty in understanding here, what is meant by the difference between the original and the actual. Could the cruelties of a tiger be denominated sins, then all the cruelties that were in deed inflicted by it on the various animals which it had seized during the course of its whole life - then would these be the actual sins of its history in the world. It is evident that these might vary in number and in circumstances, with different individuals of the same tribe; and yet both of them have the same strength of native disposition towards cruelty. Each in this case has an original tendency to sinning - a tendency that cometh direct out of the very frame and composition of the animal - So that if the fountain can be regarded separately from the rivulet - if the kind of tree can be considered as one thing, and the kind of fruit which it bears be considered as another - if a quality of inward temper, be a thing distinct from and antecedent to the ebullitions of it in deed and in performance; and this quality be diffused through a whole species, and as much born with each of its individuals as is the shape or are the members of its body - There may then be a real and philosophical foundation for that distinction between original and actual sin, which has been so much resisted by the disciples of our modern literature, and so much decried as the fiction of a barbarous theology.

It is thus that we verify the doctrine of original sin by experience. Should it be found true of every man, that he is actually a sinner - should this hold unexceptedly true with each individual of the human family - if in every country of the world, and in every age of the world's history, all who had grown old enough to be capable of showing them selves were transgressors against the law of God - and if among all the accidents and varieties of condition to which humanity is liable, each member of humanity still betook himself to his own wayward deviations from the rule of right - Then he sins, not because of the mere perversity of his education - he sins, not solely because of the peculiar excitements to evil that have crossed his path - he sins, not only because of the noxious atmosphere he breathes, or the vitiating example that is on every side of him. But he sins, purely in virtue of his being a man. There is something in the very make and mechanism of his nature, which causes him to be a sinner - a moral virus infused into the first formation of each individual who is now born into our world. The innate and original disposition of man to sin, is just as firmly established by the sinful doings of all and each of the species - as the innate ferocity of the tiger is, by the way in which this quality breaks forth into actual exemplification on each individual of the tribe. If each man is a sinner, this is because of a pervading tendency to sin, that so taints and overspreads the whole nature, as to be present with every separate portion of it.

And to assert the doctrine of original sin in these circumstances, is to do no more than to assert the reigning quality of any species, whether in the animal or the vegetable kingdom. It is to do no more than to affirm the ferocious nature of the tiger, or the odorous nature of the rose, or the poisonous nature of the foxglove. It is to reduce that which is true of every single specimen of our nature, into a general expression that we make applicable to the whole nature. And to talk of the original sin of our species, thereby intending to signify the existence of a prior and universal disposition to sin, is just as warrantable as to affirm the most certain laws, or the soundest classifications in Natural History.

Could another planet offer to our notice another family of rational beings, in form and in features and in faculties like our own - Did we see there the same accommodations which we occupy, and the same scenery that enriches our globe, with only this difference between the two tribes which each peopled its own world - that whereas in every single in stance the former were all actually sinners, the latter were all actually righteous - who would not infer an original difference of constitution, from this universal difference of conduct? Who would not infer a something that distinguished the nature of the one species from the nature of the other - the virulence of an evil principle spread over the whole of that race, in every single member of which you saw the outbreakinga of evil; and an exemption from this deleterious principle in that race, in no one member of which you could notice a single deviation from the law of uprightness? Now this evil principle is neither more nor less than original sin, and actual sin is but the produce of it. And we have nothing to do but to ascertain that actual sin is universal, in order to infer the original sin of mankind - or such an unexcepted proneness of desire to sin in the human constitution, that no individual who wears that constitution is ever found in deed to abstain from it.

When one sees a delight in cruelty, on the part of every individual among a particular tribe of animals - who would ever hesitate to affirm, that cruelty was the native and universal characteristic of the tribe, - that this entered into the primary composition of that kind of living creature, insomuch, that it may be safely predicted of every future specimen which shall be brought into the world, that this hateful quality will be found to adhere to it! By ascribing to the whole species an original propensity to cruelty, you are only stating a general fact by a general expression. And you do no more, when you ascribe to our species an original propensity to sin - inferring from the general fact, that all men have sinned, such a constitutional tendency to evil as makes you confidently aver, not merely of the past but also of all the future individuals of our race, that all men will sin. This is the doctrine of original sin, in as far as it affirms the existence of a prior tendency to sin, among all the members of the great family of mankind - a doctrine affirmed in the Bible; and confirmed by human experience, if the fact is made out, that there is not a man in our world who liveth and sinneth not.

There is not enough, it may be thought, of evidence for this fact, in the record of those more glaring enormities, which give to the general history of the world so broad an aspect of wicked and unprincipled violence. It is all true, that, in the conspicuous movement of nations, justice is often thrown aside, and robbery spreads its cruel excesses over the families of a land, and revenge satiates her thirst in the blood of provinces; so that man, when let loose from the restraints of earthly law, proves how slender a hold the law of God has in his heart, or the law of revelation has upon his conscience. Still the actors in the great national drama of the world are comparatively few; and though satisfied from the style of their performances, that many more would just feel alike and do alike in the same circumstances - there is yet room for affirming, that, in the unseen privacies of social and domastic life, there may arise many a beauteous specimen of unstained worth and unblemished piety; and that, among the descendants of our arraigned species, some are to be found, who pass a guileless and a perfect life in this world ; and in whose characters even the Judge who sitteth above cannot detect a single flaw, upon which to exclude them from the sinless abodes of paradise. It is quite impossible, you will perceive, to meet this affirmation, by successively passing all the individuals of our race before you; and pointing to the eye of your observation, the actual iniquity of the heart or life, which proves their relationship as the corrupt members of a corrupt family. But there is another way of meeting it. You cannot make all men manifest to each man, but you may make each man manifest to himself. You may make an appeal to his own conscience, and put him to his defence, if he is able for it, against the imputation that he too is a sinner. In defect of evidence for this upon his outward history, you may accompany him to that place where the emanating fountain of sin is situated. You may enter along with him into the recesses of his own heart, and there detect the unfailing preference that is given by it to its own will - the constant tendency it has, to impel its possessor to walk in his own way - the slight and rarely occasional hold that the authority of God has over it - its almost utter emptiness of desire towards Him, insomuch that His law is dethroned from its habitual ascendancy, and the sense of Him is banished from our habitual recollections. He may spurn at injustice, and blush at indelicacy, and recoil from open profanation, and weep at human suffering; and yet, withal, he may forget and disown God. Not one hour of his life, from one end to the other of it, may have been filled with any one business which God had set him to, just as a master sets his servant to a task. He may have been some hours at church ; but custom set him to it. Or he may have been officiating as long in the services of a fellow- creature; but native humanity set him to it. Or he may labour all week long for the subsistence of his family ; but instinctive affection set huin to it. Or he may engage in many a right and useful enterprise; but a feeling of propriety, or a constitutional love of employment, or a tenderness for his own reputation set him to it. We dispute not, as we have often told you, the power and the reality of many principles in the heart of man, most amiable in their character, most salutary in their operation, but which work at the same time their whole influence upon his conduct - without the reverence, and without the recognition of God. It is this which can be fastened, we affirm, on every son and daughter of Adam. It is, that the Being who made us is unminded by us. It is, that the element of human nature is an element of ungodliness. It is, that though the wayward heart of man goes forth by many different ways to the object it is most set upon - yet in no one of them, is its habitual tendency heavenward or Godward. From such a fountain, innumerable are the streams of disobedience which will issue; and though many of them.,may not be so deeply tinged with the hue of disobedience as others - yet still in the fountain itself there is the principle of independence upon God, of unconcern about God.

Put out our planet with its rational inhabitants by the side of another, where all felt the same delight in God that angels feel, and in every movement they made caught their impulse from a full sense of God as the bidder of it; and, though each business on which they set out was a task put into their hands, gave their intense presecution to it, not with the feeling of its being a drudgery, but with a feeling of delight. Let a difference so palpable between the two human generations of the two worlds be exhibited - as that in the one, God is out of the eye and out of the remembrance of His creatures; and in the other, God is ever felt to be present, and the will of all whom He has there made is the will of Him who made them. Are you to say of such a difference that it has no cause! Is it merely a fortuitous tiling, that all without exception in the one place should walk in the counsel of their own ungodly hearts, and in the other should walk as the devoted subjects of a Divine and Almighty Sovereign? Are we to be so unphilosophical as to affirm, that such a distinction as this is but a random contingency, which can be traced to no origin, and is referable to no principle whatever? Must there not be a something in the original make and constitution of the two families, to account for such a total and unexcepted diversity as has been noticed by the eye of observation? Where is the error of saying that there is a prior corrupt tendency in the one world, which does not exist in the other? And so far have we explained what is meant hy the original sin that is charged upon mankind, when we affirmed it to be that constitutional proneness to evil in virtue of which all men are sinners.

We are quite aware, that the principle, on which we would convince the whole world of sin, is but faintly recognized, and therefore feebly felt, by many of the most eloquent expounders of human virtue; that, indignant as they are against the vices which bear injuriously upon themselves, they have no sense of the injury done to God by the disregard and the forgetfulness of His own creatures that they would tolerate all the impiety there is in the world, if there was only force enough in the moral vehemence of their own powerful and pathetic appeals, to school away all its cruelty and. selfishness and fraud. And therefore it is, that we hold it indeed a most valid testimony in behalf of our doctrine - when those very men who undertake to tutor the species in virtue apart from godliness, and apart from the methodism of the gospel, are rendered heartless by disappointment; and take revenge upon their disciples by pouring forth the effusions of bitterest misanthropy against them. It would look as if even on their own ground, the tenet of original sin might find enough of argument and countenance to make it respectable. Rousseau was one of those to whom we allude. He may be regarded as having, in effect, abjured Christianity, and betaken himself to the enterprise of humanizing the world on other principles; and from the bower of romance and sensibility, did he send forth the lessons, that were to recall our wandering race to the primitive innocence, from which art and science and society had seduced them; and, year after year, did he ply all Europe with the spells of a most magical and captivating eloquence. Nor were there wanting many admirers who worshipped him while he lived; and who, when he died, went like devotees on a pilgrimage to his tomb. And they too had the fondness to imagine, that the conceptions of his wondrous mind were the germs of a great moral revolution, that was awaiting our species.

But the ill-fated Rousseau himself, lived long enough to mourn over the vanity of his own beauteous speculations; and was heard to curse the very nature he had so long idolized; and, instead of humanity capable of being raised to the elevation of a godlike virtue, did he himself pronounce of humanity that it was deeply tainted with some sore and irrecoverable disease. And it is indeed a striking attestation from him to the depravity of our race, that, ere he ended his career, he became sick of that very world which he had vainly tried to regenerate - renouncing all brotherhood with his own species, and loudly proclaiming to all his fellows how much he hated and execrated and abjured them. What Rousseau is in prose, Lord Byron is in poetry. Only he never aimed to better a world, of which he seldom spoke but in the deep and bitter derision of a heart that utterly despised it - not because of its ungodliness, for it is not this which calls forth the vindictiveness of his most appalling abjurations. But it is obviously his feeling of humanity, that its whole heart is sick and its whole head is sore; that some virus of deep and deadly infusion pervades the whole extent of it; and never is he more in his own favourite element, than when giving back to the world from his own pages, the reflected image of that guilt which troubles and deforms it. One should have liked to see a mind so powerful as his, led to that secret of this world's depravity, which is only revealed unto babes, while hid in a veil of apparent mysticism from the wise and the prudent. And yet even as it is, does he, in the wild and frenzied career of his own imagination, catch a passing glimpse of the truth that he had not yet apprehended.
"Our life is a false nature - tis not in
The harmony of things - this hard decree,
This uneradicable taint of sin,
This boundless Upas, this all-blasting tree,
Whose root is earth, whose leaves and branches be
The skies, which rain their plagues on man like dew,
Disease, death, bondage, all the woes we see,
And even the woes we see not, which throb through
The immedicable soul, with heart-aches ever new."

It has turned out as we apprehended. We have said enough for one address; and yet we have not been able to pass away from the first branch of the subject of original sin, even the sinful tendency which exists, as a native and constitutional attribute of our species, and has been denominated the corruption of our species. We cannot at present afford so much as one sentence on the other branch of the subject, which is original sin in respect of the guilt of it ; and under which we may have to advance a few remarks, for elucidating what has been termed the imputation of Adam's sin to all his posterity. It is evident that the two topics of the existence of original sin and the guilt of it, are distinct from one another; and they lead to distinct practical consequences. The only one we shall urge upon you just now, is, that, however much poetry and philosophy and eloquence may have failed in their attempts to extirpate the moral disorders of our world, - this is the very enterprise which the gospel of Jesus Christ has embarked upon; and on the success of which, in the case of all who truly submit to its lessons, it has adventured the whole credit of its divinity and its truth.

We mistake Christianity, if we think that it only provides an expiation, to do away the guilt of our original depravity. It provides a regenerating influence, to do away its existence. It does something more than demonstrate the evil malady of our nature. It will not be satisfied with any thing short of destroying it. For this purpose it brings a new and a powerful element into living play with the original elements of our constitution; and with these it sustains a combat that may well be denominated a war of extermination. The moralists of our age, whether in lessons from the academic chair, or by the insinuating address of fiction and poetry - while they try to mend and to embellish human life, have never struck one effective blow at that ungodliness of the heart, which is the germ of all the distempers in human society. It is against this that the gospel aims its decisive thrust, as at the very seed and principle of tile mischief. It combats the disease in its original elements; amid, instead of idly attempting to intercept or turn aside the stream of this sore corruption, it makes head against that fortress where the emanating fountain of the distemper lies. For this purpose, the truths which it reveals, and the weapons which it employs, and the expedients which it puts into operation - nay, the very terms of that vocabulary which it uses, are almost strikingly contrasted both with the conceptions and the phraseology of general literature.

There is nothing, there is positively nothing, in that general literature, the profest object of which too is to moralize our species - about the blood of an everlasting covenant; or the path of reconciliation with God, by an offered and appointed mediatorship; or the provision of a sanctifying Spirit, by which there is infused into our nature, a counteracting virtue to all the sinfulness that abounds in it. We have already had proof for the utter impotency of all that has issued from the schools of sentiment and philosophy. Should not this shut us up, at least to the experiment of this very peculiar gospel, which offers to guide the world to a consummation that hitherto has been so very hopeless? Let each, at all events, try it for himself. Let each here present, whose conscience has responded to the charge of ungodliness, feel himself drawn to an expedient, by which this most obstinate of all tendencies may at length be overcome. And for your encouragement at the outset, let us announce to you, that this said gospel justifies the ungodly. Even now acceptance is offered to you. Even now reconciliation may be entered on, and that without waiting till the heart has given up its practical and deep-rooted atheism. The first act to which you are called, is an act of agreement with the God whom you have so totally renounced, in the habit and history of your past life. The blood of Christ, if you will only take heart and believe in it, washes away the guilt of all this sinfulness; and the promise that He gives to those who trust in Him is, that He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob - sealing those who believe with the Holy Spirit; and thus causing them to love and honour and serve the God, from whom they were aforetime so widely and so wretchedly alienated.
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