Wrong Views Of Sin
I can only account for the theory that God’s laws cannot be kept, and that no person can live without committing sin, from one or all of the following considerations.
This theory may place the standard too high. In effect a standard too high is a standard too low, because it is a false standard. It may be that this standard demands angelic perfection, or intellectual perfection, or freedom from temptation, or perfection of the nerves, or perfection of speech, or perfect culture in manner, or absence of frailty, or freedom from mistake, or a thousand and one other things, to all of which no human being has ever yet attained, and none of which have any necessary moral or spiritual quality. A Christian may not have attained to any one of these perfections and yet live a life well pleasing to God.
Stick a theory must necessarily be advocated by those who have not personally received the power of God which keeps the heart from sin.
It is natural that we judge others by ourselves, and form our doctrines from our experience, and even interpret Scripture by the color of our own spectacles; but conclusions from such premises are rarely right. A negative testimony in any event is seldom of any use. One positive testimony, from experience, that God saves from sin, is of more value than a thousand opinions based upon a lack of such experience. The Scriptures, Christian biography, and the testimony of the living, backed by the words of Jesus, outweigh all such negative opinions.
Just about the time the experts had theoretically demonstrated, that a ship could not carry coal enough to steam across the Atlantic, the thing was actually accomplished; when Morse had constructed the first short telegraph line and claimed he could send messages over it, some with unbelief laughed him to scorn, and others said if done at all, it was done through the instrumentality of evil spirits, but telegraphy was a scientific fact.
When Prof. Bell invented the telephone in the city of Brantford, no person believed him sufficiently to advance him money, and he tried to sell for a hundred dollars and failed, what now is worth ten thousand dollars, but the telephone is a great commercial fact.
The Pharisees tried to weaken the faith of the man who was born blind, in the power and goodness of Jesus, through whom he had received his sight; and the man said, “One thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see.”
Instances are as numerous almost as the sands upon the seashore, both in mind and matter, that the impossible to the one is the attainment of the other; that what the majority say cannot be done, is straightway accomplished by more courageous souls, and he is a bold or an ignorant man, or both, who would put any limit upon the possibilities of faith in an Almighty God and loving Father. Or it may be, that the theory I am combat-ting has a wrong view of sin, and calls sin either that which is innocent, or which possesses no moral quality.
I commenced by saying that sin consists in bad motives, and that there is no necessary moral quality in any outward action, but this is not generally considered when people put moral labels upon outward actions. Some say it is sin to drink intoxicants even in moderation, others say the use of tobacco is sinful; to dance, to attend theatres, to play games of chance, to speculate, not to attend public service twice a day, and a hundred other acts of commission and omission, are said to be sinful by some, and are approved of by others.
Very many devout people consider that all animal desire is sinful, and some of the fathers of the Church, and the famous saints of old, have scourged their bodies and worn horse-hair garments next to their skin, in order to flagellate the flesh and bring it into subjection to their pious notions.
Some set themselves religious tasks and put themselves under strict rules in the matter of prayer, reading the Scriptures and other similar things, and when they fail to measure fully up to these difficult tasks, they take on condemnation and think they have sinned.
Some have doubts concerning what they have been taught as. Christian doctrine. Certain doctrines do not commend themselves to their reasons as being right, but under other influences and in really pious moments, they think they must have been wicked to have doubted, and they proceed to stultify their reasons to satisfy a false, even if devout conscience. These are samples of a thousand ways through which people bring themselves into condemnation when God does not, necessarily, condemn them at all.
I fear that many religious teachers, like the Pharisees of old, put too much stress upon rules and regulations and outward things, and “Put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear,” and at the same time are the creators of false consciences in those whom they teach.
How much better it is to teach principles than rules, and to cultivate spiritual life rather than a creed! Jesus made the Holy Spirit the convincer of sin and of righteousness, and when we learn to take His verdict upon our thoughts and actions we get a righteous judgment. The truly spiritual do not trust their own unaided judgment concerning their volitions and actions, but they do take the judgment of God the Holy Spirit. John on this matter declares (1 John 3:19-21): “Hereby shall we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our heart before Him, wherein so ever our heart condemn us; because God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.” And Paul states (1 Cor. 4:3,4) “But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man’s judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self. For I know nothing against myself; yet am I not hereby justified : but He that judgeth me is the Lord.” The Holy Spirit convinces of sin and of righteousness; that is, tells us when we do right and when we do wrong; and the spiritually minded do not take condemnation from a creed, or an ordinance, or pious rules, or from any human being, or from their own heart, or from the Devil, who is called in Scripture “The accuser of the brethren;” but they instinctively refer all matters, great and small, to The Holy Spirit, and abide by His verdict.
This is the tribunal to which Jesus always appealed, and this is what the Master instructed His disciples, and those who have learned this great spiritual secret find that God is less severe than the creeds, and more generous than their own heart, and that the Holy Spirit administers the laws of God in harmony with the doctrine of Jesus, that His yoke is easy and His burden is light.