Inbred Sin Is Not Destroyed At Conversion
We have shown that at conversion the sinner is justified, regenerated, adopted, has the witness of the Spirit, receives a power that will keep him from committing known sin, and feels an abhorrence to everything unholy within or without; that he has a joy and peace such as he never knew before. Let us look at the further experience of the young convert. We have shown that Scripture teaches that there are still remnants of depravity in the heart. We come, then, to see if experience bears us out.
Universal experience confirms this truth. In the newness of life the young convert goes forth with a bounding heart, feeling “strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might”; ready to do anything for God. He is kept so wonderfully that he never expects to sin again, or have any desire to sin. He hates sin. As the old hymn expresses it:
“I thought I never should sin any more.”
But a sudden temptation comes to him, and he flies into a passion; has lost his temper. What does he do now? A great many get discouraged at this point, doubt their conversion, are led to believe, after all, there is nothing in religion, and give it up. This is the chief reason that there is such a host of people today who had a clear experience of conversion, but for want of instruction at this point have given the whole matter up. This is, we believe, the chief reason why there are so many backsliders. In many communities there are as many as there are professed Christians in the place. There is a crying-out need of light and instruction on the nature of inbred sin to preserve the fruits of our evangelistic work. We hear everywhere serious, thoughtful men, lamenting the difficulty in keeping converts in a justified state. We only use this illustration of loss of temper to express one phase of experience; there are other lusts of soul that manifest themselves. Loss of temper is one of the most common. But there are many who are not discouraged from Christian life, even at a break-down like this; they know God has pardoned them, and they are doing as well as they know, and they come and ask God for pardon for the sin committed while in passion, and start on again, resolved next time to be watchful – to lean by faith on Jesus every moment. Again they are tempted, under provocation, to speak the angry word; but, looking to Jesus, crying, “Lord, help!” victory comes. Temper was there, but God gave grace to overcome, and come off without committing actual sin. But the temper was there. And if the convert goes on from this time and never yields to it once (a very rare case), yet it is there, and his heart is not pure. How contradictory to all experience is the assertion that Christians are freed from inbred sin at conversion. If such were true, then there have been but a very few conversions, if any, since the world began; for the majority of Christians cannot testify to any such experience. Or, if there have been many conversions, the majority of the Church have been living in a backslidden condition, and are in it today; for it is not their experience now. Or the convert may not be afflicted with inbred sin in the form of temper. There are other manifestations. Covetousness lurks in some, and hinders growth in grace. A heart whose tendency is to unbelief; a tendency to backsliding in others; a sullen, sulky, disposition in others; lust tempts others; pride. others; love of the world still others; wilfulness still others. At times these have to be struggled against. They are felt at times; we do not say always.* Mr. Wesley says, in his sermon on “The Scriptural Way of Salvation”: “Hence may appear the extreme mischievousness of that seemingly innocent opinion, that there is no sin in a believer; that all sin is destroyed root and branch the moment a man is justified. By totally preventing that repentance, it quite blocks up the way to sanctification.”
We deem it uncharitable to say that we are saved from inbred sin at conversion, for it would make backsliders of many devoted souls who are serving God to the best of their knowledge, who do feel these lusts of soul. Mr. Wesley says on this point in his sermon on “Sin in Believers” (page 110 Wesley’s Sermons): “And as this position — there is no sin in a believer, no carnal mind, no bent to backsliding — is thus contrary to God’s Word, so is it to the experience of His children. These continually feel a heart bent to backsliding; a natural tendency to evil; a proneness to depart from God and cleave to the things of the earth. They are daily sensible of sin remaining in their heart, pride, self-will, unbelief; and of sin cleaving to all they speak and do, even their best actions and holiest duties. Yet at the same time they ‘know they are of God’; they cannot doubt of it a moment.” So evident is this truth, that all the churches, whether Catholic or Protestant, admit it, in their creeds. The Council of Trent, whose canons are the highest standards of the doctrines and discipline of the Roman Catholic Church, at its fifth session, held June 17, 1546, issued this confession: “But this holy synod confesses and is sensible, that in the baptized there remains concupiscence, or an incentive (to sin), which, whereas it is left for our exercise, can not injure those who consent not, but resist manfully by the grace of Jesus Christ.”
The Greek Church (or Eastern division of the Catholic Church), in the Longer Catechism, speaking on the text, “they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts,” says: “How can we crucify the flesh with the affections and lusts? By bridling the affections and lusts, and by doing what is contrary to them.” The Reformed Church of Germany, in the “Formula of Concord,” Art. IV., Sec. 8, says: “But we acknowledge that this liberty of spirit in the elect children of God is not perfect, but is as yet weighed down with manifold infirmity, as St. Paul laments concerning himself about this matter” (Rom. vii. 14-25; Gal. v. 17); and again, Art. VI., Sec. 3: “And they that believe, according to the spirit of their mind, have perpetually to struggle with their flesh; that is, with corrupt nature, which inheres in us even till death. And on account of the old Adam which remains fixed in the intellect and will of man, and in all his powers, there is need that the law of God should always shin e before man, that he may not frame anything in matters of religion under an impulse of self-devised devotion, and may not choose out ways of honoring God not instituted by the Word of God.”
In the “Helvitic Confession” of the Swiss Churches we find this statement:–
“Secondly, in the regenerate there remains infirmity. For since sin dwells in us, and the flesh struggles against the spirit in renewed persons, even unto the end, the regenerate are not able at all readily to accomplish what they undertake. This is confirmed by the Apostle in the Epistle to the Romans, chap. vii., and Gal. v.”
The Heidelberg Catechism of the Reformed Church, published in 1563, asks thus:
“Question 56. What dost thou believe concerning the forgiveness of sins?
“Answer. That God, for the sake of Christ’s satisfaction, will no more remember my sins, neither the sinful nature with which I have to struggle all my life long; but graciously imparts to me the righteousness of Christ, that I may nevermore come into condemnation.”
The Confession of the Church of France, prepared by Calvin, contains in Art. XI.: “Even after baptism it is still of the nature of sin, but the condemnation of it is abolished for the children of God, out of His mere free grace and love; and further, that it is a perversity always producing fruits of malice and rebellion, so that the most holy men, although they resist it, are still stained with many weaknesses and imperfections while they are in this life.”
The Belgic Confession of the churches of the Netherlands, Art. XV., says: “Nor is it,” (original sin) “by any means abolished, or done away in baptism, since sin always issues from this woeful source as water from a fountain; notwithstanding it is not imputed to the children of God unto condemnation, but by His grace and mercy is forgiven them. Not that they shall securely rest in sin, but that a sense of this corruption should make believers often to sigh, desiring to be delivered from the body of this death.”
The Church of Scotland, in Art. XIII. of its Confession, says of conversion: ” And fra thine cummis that continuall battell, quhilk is betwixt the flesh and the Spirit in God’s children.”
Art. IX. of Church of England declares: “And this infection of nature doth remain yea, in them that are regenerate.”
Art. XXIV. of the Irish Church is as follows: “This corruption of nature doth remain, even in those that are regenerated, whereby the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and cannot be subject to the law of God.”
Also the third Canon of the Synod of Dart:
“By reason of these remains of indwelling sin, and the temptations of sin and of the world, those who are converted could not persevere in a state of grace, if left to their own strength.” The Westminster Confession contains these words: “There remaineth still some remnants of corruption in every part, whence ariseth a continual war, the flesh lusting against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh.” This agreement of all the creeds is on a matter of experience. Their lack of experience, deeming it necessary to contend against inbred sin all through life, proves nothing. While experience proved that the life of Israel in the Wilderness was unpleasant at times, their ignorance of Canaan did not disprove its existence or its glories. So these creeds do voice an experience of the renewed man struggling against inward evil, establishing the point that inbred sin is in the justified believer; but these creeds do not prove that it must be so until death. Mr. Wesley says in his sermon on “Sin in Believers”: “The same testimony is given by all other churches; not only the Greek and Romish Church; but by every reformed church in Europe of whatever denomination”; and again: “It hath been observed before, that the opposite doctrine, that there is no sin in believers, is quite new in the Church of Christ; that it was never heard of for seventeen hundred years, — never until it was discovered by Count Zinzendorf. I do not remember to have seen the least intimation of it, either in any ancient or modern writer; unless, perhaps, in some of the wild, ranting Antinomians.” We have shown that Scripture gives no warrant to believe that sin is all destroyed in justified believers, that this is confirmed in the experience of converts, and that this is the universal testimony of all the churches, as voiced in their creeds.
3) And it is contrary to the reason of the thing.
1) It is unreasonable, for it contradicts the universal testimony of all Christendom. For human nature is the same in all ages, and the working of the Gospel is the same.
2) Inbred sin never was forgiven, and never can be forgiven, either in this world or the world to come. It is not one of those things that forgiveness could touch. Forgiveness is granted only for those things that we do; not for what we are by nature. Inbred sill is not a deed, but a state. No physician forgives a disease, A child disobeys its parent and enters upon a course that destroys health. A deadly fever is the result. He sends for his father and is forgiven for his acts of disobedience, yet no rational man would say that is all he needs; no sane mall would say that you can forgive disease. He needs to be healed as well as forgiven. The forgiveness of the father does not cure the sickness. He needs something beyond that — another work that requires a physician. But when it comes to man s soul, the same fact is still more evident. The son contracted his disease, but we inherit inbred sin; we are not responsible for its existence in our souls. Not being responsible for it, we are not guilty because of it. We are guilty only when we knowingly commit actual transgression.
3) A penitent sinner desires pardon for actual sin so much that he rarely, if ever, at all thinks of inbred sin. His guilt being on account of actual transgression, he hastes to get rid of the condemnation, by applying for immediate pardon. That is all he thinks of at that time. He is like the ancient fugitive escaping to the City of Refuge. He has no time to think about the state of his health; he is anxious to get into the city ere the manslayer cuts him down. So an unconverted man, convicted, sees only his sins that condemn him. Inbred sin does not condemn him. Justice will cut him down for his actual transgressions, and so his only plea is for forgiveness for actual transgression. No one ever thinks, in praying for him, to do more than to pray that his sins may be forgiven, and his heart regenerated, and the witness of the Spirit given him.
4) So absurd is the idea that inbred sin is removed at conversion that those who maintain this heresy never testify definitely to the fact. It is customary for those who say God has done a complete work for them in conversion, if asked if all evil tempers and desires have been removed from their hearts, to hesitate and stammer and equivocate. While, if you ask the same persons if they have been converted, they reply, “Yes,” without a moment’s hesitation. In the latter case, they have the witness of the Spirit to the fact of their acceptance with God. In the former they have not the witness of the Spirit; God does not uphold them in their testimony, and hence they cannot give an unhesitating answer. They break down. Mr. Wesley said that while there might be persons who had received such a work of grace at their conversion, he had never heard of one. If there be any such well-authenticated cases, they are remarkable examples, such as are not met every day, and our leaders in Israel ought to turn their attention to such exceptional instances that were never known in the Church for centuries, and examine and get at the secret of this wonderful phenomenal experience.
5) The absurdity of this is seen in the fact that no one ever instructs penitent sinners to ask for the removal of inbred sin at conversion. A convert gets just as far as his faith takes him. He is told that by trusting Jesus, his sins are forgiven. He believes on the testimony of others, and of the Word of God. He could not believe for the forgiveness of sins unless he had some instruction on that point. “Faith cometh by hearing.” If he had never heard that God is willing to pardon sin, he would not have applied. And the reason that sinners do not have the roots of sin all extracted at conversion, is, they have never felt the need of it, have never been instructed as to its necessity, nor that God wants to do it at that time; hence do not believe for it; and as salvation comes only by faith, not having believed, they do not receive what they do not expect.
We may, before closing this chapter, stop to notice the objection usually raised at this point. It is often said: “I gave my all to God at conversion, and He did the whole work for me then. When God does a work, He does a perfect work. He does not do any half-way work.” This sounds very plausible and very reasonable, but it is an unfair statement. It assumes that other people accuse the Lord of performing only a half-way work, which is not the case. God does perform a perfect work at conversion. He perfectly converts. And we can find no passage where He promises more than that at conversion. But perfect conversion is not perfect cleansing. He must be converted to see the spirituality of God’s law. That he cannot see in his sins. For he is “dead in trespasses and sins.”
He must have new faculties, in order to see the spirituality of God’s laws. He is converted in order to put him where he may intelligently see the loathsome corruption of inbred sin. To those who say God always does it all the first time he touches, we would point to the healing of the blind man, who at the first touch saw men as trees walking; at the second touch he saw clearly. Christ did not do the whole work of healing in his case first, but worked perfectly as far as He wished to go in the first work. And He touches the soul in conversion, in order to prepare it for something more. The record teaches that He did not create all things in one day. But He made each day’s work perfect in itself, and a preparation for the next day. Would it not be better to consult Scripture, the experience of the ages and reason, than to assert such theories that cannot be sustained?
6) People who assert that there is no inbred sin in believers cannot be consistent. We give an illustration of a single denomination. When converts had come in the past complaining of inbred sin, they had said, You must endure that all your life. When the contrary began to be preached, and a way of deliverance was pointed out, we are told that the same leaders who had preached “You must endure it,” now turned round and said, “you were delivered from it all at conversion.” They had rather deny the sickness, then take the medicine.
The writer quotes Mr. Wesley frequently, because all evangelical Christians admit that he interpreted the spirit of New Testament piety as correctly as any one during the past century.