The Secret Of The Lord
IN God’s economy of Salvation, we are not left to grope our way in the dark, as to either duty on the one hand, or privilege on the other. Our God is not an absent God, but one “In whom we live and move and have our being.” Provision has been made by Him for solving all spiritual problems which are necessary to be solved, and we are exhorted “If we lack wisdom to ask of God, who giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not.” On the question of sin, as I have elsewhere stated, there are many strange and conflicting theories, and yet it seems to me, the New Testament explains the subject with such simplicity, that there is no need for the strange theories which have been conceived concerning it.
Concerning the nature of sin, it may be well to start with the scriptural definition. The Bible declares that “Sin is the transgression of the law,” and in another place that, “All unrighteousness is sin”; that is, I take it, sin is a transgression of the law of God, but what particular law, it is not so easy to say.
Whatever may have been its original reference, it certainly cannot refer now to the Mosaic or ceremonial law; it cannot refer now to any of the laws under the Old Testament dispensation, for that dispensation has been succeeded by a better. Hence, I take it, that under this New Testament dispensation, namely the dispensation of the Holy Spirit, the will of God as revealed by the Spirit, is the law of God concerning us, as regards our duty in the various incidents of our lives, so that sin is the transgression of the law of the Spirit. As to the second scriptural definition, that “All unrighteousness is sin,” that states the same truth in another way and must mean, that all thoughts or actions, which do not make for the ultimate good of our fellows, or ourselves, or for the glory of God, are sinful.
For the purpose of clearness, and to prevent unnecessary controversy, the definition which I will give of sin, is that thought, word or deed, which displeases God. This definition is clear, it gives my conception of sin, I also think it in harmony with the Scriptures, and I shall use the word sin in this sense in the present chapter.
I will not enter into a discussion of the moral quality of regenerated human nature apart from volition and action, or in a quiescent state, as such a discussion must necessarily be metaphysical and theoretical and would not serve any practical purpose.
Whether we are born with natures like white blank paper, with nothing written on them either good or evil, or whether we are born with natures tainted and corrupt is a matter beyond our control, and neither blame nor praise can attach to us in any event. The horrible doctrine taught by some of the fathers of the Church and referred to in a former chapter, that, on account of original depravity, “There are infants in hell a span long” makes God a monster for our detestation rather than for our love and reverence, but happily there is no such God.
What is the precise moral quality of our spiritual nature after we have been adopted into God’s family, I leave others to decide, only I must insist that it is not blameworthy, and it is such a nature that enables God to be pleased with its possessor.
In my opinion, no act or thought can displease God, which is not under the control of the will of the individual. There are a great many thoughts and even actions beyond our control, which I think God does not hold us responsible for, and which therefore are not sinful. It is not conceivable that God holds a man responsible who has lost his reason, no matter what his thoughts or acts are; and to whatever extent improper thoughts or actions may be a result of our imperfect reasoning they cannot be sinful. I do not think God would record sin against a Christian man for example, for any thoughts or experiences he may go through in the shape of dreams, no matter what their character may be, inasmuch as, so far as I know, dreams are not controlled by the will, and therefore we are not responsible for them, providing our waking thoughts are right.
Then, a Christian man with sound reason and undoubted integrity will often have involuntary thoughts concerning evil, and indeed, all sorts of thoughts concerning evil may pass through his mind, but such thoughts not being at all under the control of his will cannot be sinful. I therefore take it, that every sin, must be an AVOIDABLE act, for those thoughts or acts, which are unavoidable coming or committed through mental weakness, or ignorance, or through lapses of memory, or through any other human infirmity, a Christian man cannot be responsible for.
It is possible that some of these infirmities may spring from heredity, or may be the result of sin in a man’s early life, but when God forgave him for all the sins which he had committed, and adopted him into His family, He accepted him just as he was, and though these weaknesses and frailties referred to, may be in some measure the result of sin either in himself or in his forefathers, yet they are not now under the control of his will, and therefore such acts cannot be displeasing to God, so far as the individual is concerned.
You take the case of a drunkard who comes to God for forgiveness; and is freely forgiven. His name has been written in the Lamb’s Book of Life; his sins have been blotted out; he is adopted into God’s family; and yet this same man often finds in himself a craving for liquor, not with the consent of his will but under its strong protest. Now it is past my comprehension of our Heavenly Father, to suppose that He will record sin against that poor man every time he has this craving, notwithstanding that the craving itself, was the result of his former sinful life. Undoubtedly, if this craving for liquor so influences him that he yields to temptation, and knowingly sins against God, then he has fallen from grace; but without the consent of his will, in thus yielding, I think God will hold him innocent. I am not even sure, but what some men may get drunk with as little moral turpitude as others who innocently contract typhoid fever.
Acts, therefore, not avoidable, cannot be sinful. It may help to bring out this idea more clearly, to say that there is no moral quality in acts themselves, apart from a human agent and the motives prompting them. Just as there is no such thing as light without an eye, or sound without an ear, so there can be no moral quality without a moral agent. For instance, those habits which in birds and animals are normal and legitimate, in man may be vicious and sinful; therefore moral quality is not in the act itself. Sin cannot consist in the mere outward act, but must be determined by the motive.
It is worth repeating that falsehood does not necessarily consist in telling what is not so, for if a man tells what is not true to fact, but conscientiously believes that it is, he is truthful, while on the other hand, if a man tells what is true to fact with the intent and purpose to deceive, that man is a liar.
Then some acts under certain circumstances may be sinful, and under others, innocent. The merchant who unwittingly demands and accepts payment the second time for goods, not knowing that they had been previously paid for, does not sin, however much he may be deficient in business ability; while he who does the same thing with full knowledge of the facts, is a thief. But again, acts which are pleasing to God in one age are often sinful in another age.
Many of the laws of God, have been temporary; they have been wise under the circumstances in which the people were situated, when God gave the laws; but with different people under different circumstances, these laws are not binding; and indeed he who would attempt to keep some of these laws may sin against God, notwithstanding that at one time they were just and equal. And the converse of this proposition is equally true, for certain habits, in one age may be innocent, but with the lapse of time and change of circumstances become vicious. That Jesus drank wine, even if it were real or intoxicating in its nature, and pleased God perfectly in so doing, is no proof that a man can to-day do the same thing and not displease God.
Indeed I can imagine a man copying Jesus in this and in many other things and grievously sinning against God by these very actions.
That the saints of God in other dispensations had a number of wives with God’s permission and approval is no evidence at all that a man to-day can have more than one wife and be innocent. Nor on the other hand does it detract from the virtue and the beauty of the character of the wife of Enoch Arden because she married another man while her first husband was living, she thinking him to have been dead for many years. >From these considerations I think it will be agreed by all, that one man may with innocence do a thing, which another could not do without condemnation, so that there is no moral quality in acts themselves. God judges or pronounces upon their merits from the motives which prompt them, and not from the deeds themselves.
And still a step further; I can conceive that even those acts whose tendency is harmful, if prompted by good motives, namely love to God and love to man, may not be sinful. I have read a story of an indiscreet man, who walked ten miles at great personal inconvenience, prompted by love to his friend, to tell him a piece of bad news, and the shock was so great, that his friend being in delicate health, it caused his death. Now, we may pronounce upon the bad judgment of that man, but I think no man will dare say that God would necessarily register sin against him, notwithstanding that his indiscreet action caused the death of his friend.
Some Christian Churches still keep up, what I think is a pernicious practice, the use of fermented wine at the Communion service, and I believe that this practice often results in grave evils to Christian men, who have been saved from drunkards’ lives, but who still have the appetite for liquor; and yet I should be very sorry to say that God necessarily records sin against such Churches, for they think they are in harmony with the Scriptures and are doing the will of God. It cannot be that God will record sin against any man, no matter what the act is, if it be performed with honest Godly motive.
Even human laws interpret acts by the motives prompting them. It is not an unusual occurrence to hear of men killing other men, and they are not regarded as murderers. Under my own observation recently a young man took a gun and deliberately aimed it at his invalid mother, deliberately pulled the trigger, and shot her dead. Now, this man was not even arrested, because it was learned beyond dispute that he thought the gun was empty, also that he was passionately fond of his mother, and was doing this in fun, and for her amusement, while what happened almost drove him crazy. The law of the land recognized that this man had no expectation whatever of committing murder, and that his motive to amuse his mother was a good one, and hence he was not punished in any way. On the other hand, if he had committed the same deed with the motive to kill, the law would have hanged him by the neck until he was dead. Thus all good human laws are founded upon the Divine Law, for God judges by motives, and not necessarily by actions.