Sin As A State Or Condition
Without any desire to defend one creed or another, I must conclude from my observation that human nature is not, in its beginning or infancy, pure or free from a taint or tendency to sin. The theory that the mind or soul of a child may be represented by a sheet of white paper, with nothing written upon it, either good or bad, is I fear, not according to actual fact. Experience teaches that a child left to itself, is prone to go morally wrong, and that one of the chief duties of a parent or teacher is to teach the child the harmful nature of wrong actions and to lead it to God to have this sinning tendency reversed. The familiar couplet, whether historically true or not, is certainly true to human experience, that, “We sprang from the man whose guilty fall, Corrupts our race and taints us all.”
This natural condition is exemplified in two ways, that is, we find in children, at adolescence and at times earlier, a natural tendency to shun God and a desire for that which is sinful. My purpose will not permit of any extended elaboration of these two tendencies, nor indeed is it necessary, as I think from common observation the truth of my statement is apparent. Who has not observed that the germs of what have been called the seven deadly sins; pride, covetous-ness, lust, anger, glutton} envy and sloth, appear to be in every normal and healthy child?
Before leaving this phase of the subject I must make two statements concerning the guilt or blameworthiness of children in this condition.
First I must protest against the theory which is taught in some of the creeds that children are guilty for the sin of Adam. I presume no person outside of a lunatic asylum would advocate such a theory to-day, but it has been held in the past by great men in the Church, and growing out of it the horrible statement has been made, that “There are infants in hell a span long.” But over against our horror for such an unjust doctrine, that of making a child responsible for the sins of Adam, we must admit the fact, that children certainly do suffer in this life for the sins of their parents. “The parents have eaten sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge,” or in sober fact, parents sin and contract both physical and moral diseases which they transmit to their children. The suffering thus entailed, however, cannot be in the nature of punishment, indeed, it is nothing more or less than vicarious suffering; these children bear the sins of their parents, and it would seem to me to be thus arranged by the good God as a warning against the terrible consequences of sin. It must be, that God, either in time or eternity, gives to such sufferers a compensation equal to the suffering thus borne by them for the sins of others.
The second remark I would make on this question is that children are innocent in fact, and therefore in the eyes of God, notwithstanding that they are the offspring of sinners and that they have inherited the evil consequence of the sins of their parents. I need quote but one authority to stop all argument on this subject, for did not the Master say, “Suffer the little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven”? Indeed He puts children as the standard of character, and their condition, the condition for salvation, saying, “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
Now if it be granted that children are innocent in the eyes of God, it logically follows that sin as a state or condition, variously known as birth sin, or natural depravity, or the disease of sin with which children are born,—has no necessary moral quality. As well may we predicate moral quality of a clubfoot with which a child is born as to do so of any inherited quality of mind, body or spirit, which such child may possess. The fact that children are born with an evil inheritance in their own natures, provokes in God the profoundest pity and love, as far removed from blame as the mother’s fond love for the crippled child is from hatred.
The temptation to prolong the discussion on this phase of the subject is strong, for what has already been said is but the gateway to a very large and inviting field, but the temptation must be resisted as other important phases of the subject must be referred to.