The Rev. CHARLES G. FINNEY’S SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY (1851)
We come now to consider–
2. THE PROPER METHOD OF ACCOUNTING FOR MORAL DEPRAVITY.
The term “moral” is from the Latin mos, manners. The term “depravity,” as has been shown, is from de and pravus, crooked. The terms united, signify crooked manners, or bad morals. The word amartia, rendered sin, as has been said, signifies to miss the mark, to aim at the wrong end, a deviation from the divine law. In this discussion I must,
(1.) Remind you of some positions that have been settled respecting moral depravity.
(2.) Consult the oracles of God respecting the nature of moral depravity, or sin.
(3.) Consult the oracles of God in respect to the proper method of accounting for the existence of sin.
(4.) Show the manner in which it is to be accounted for as an ultimate fact.
(1.) Some positions that have been settled.
(i.) It has been shown that moral depravity resolves itself into selfishness.
(ii.) That selfishness consists in the supreme choice of self-indulgence.
(iii.) That self-indulgence consists in the committal of the will to the gratification of the sensibility, as opposed to obeying the law of the reason, and of God.
(iv.) That sin, or moral depravity, is a unit, and always consists in this committed state of the will to self-gratification, irrespective of the particular form or means of self-gratification.
(v.) It has also been shown, that moral depravity does not consist in a sinful nature.
(vi.) And, also that actual transgression cannot justly be ascribed to a sinful constitution.
(vii.) We have also seen that all sin is actual, and that no other than actual transgression can justly be called sin.
(2.) We are to consult the oracles of God respecting the nature of moral depravity, or sin.
Reference has often been made to the teachings of inspiration upon this subject. But it is important to review our ground in this place, that we may ascertain what are the teachings, and what are the assumptions, of the bible in regard to the nature of sin. Does it assume that as a truth, which natural theology teaches upon the subject? What is taught in the bible, either expressly, or by way of inference and implication, upon this subject?
(i.) The Bible gives a formal definition of sin. 1Jo_3:4, “Sin is a transgression of the law;” and 1Jo_5:17, “All unrighteousness is sin.” As was remarked on a former occasion, this definition is not only an accurate one, but it is the only one that can possibly be true.
(ii.) The Bible everywhere makes the law the only standard of right and wrong, and obedience to it to be the whole of virtue, and disobedience to it the whole of sin. This truth lies everywhere upon the face of the Bible. It is taught, assumed, implied, or expressed, on every page of the Bible.
(iii.) It holds men responsible for their voluntary actions alone, or more strictly for their choices alone, and expressly affirms, that “if there be a willing mind, it is accepted according to what a man hath, and not according to what he hath not.” That is, willing as God directs is accepted as obedience, whether we are able to execute our choices or not.
(iv.) The Bible always represents sin as something done or committed, or wilfully omitted, and never as a part or attribute of soul or body. We have seen, that the texts that have been relied on, as teaching the doctrine of constitutional sinfulness, when rightly understood, mean no such thing.
(v.) The Bible assures us, that all sin shall pass in review at the solemn judgment, and always represents all sin then to be recognized, as consisting in “the deeds done in the body.” Texts that support these assertions are too numerous to need to be quoted, as every reader of the Bible knows.
(3.) We are to consult the Bible in respect to the proper method of accounting for moral depravity.
(i.) We have more than once seen that the Bible has given us the history of the introduction of sin into our world; and that from the narrative, it is plain, that the first sin consisted in selfishness, or in consenting to indulge the excited constitutional propensities in a prohibited manner. In other words, it consisted in yielding the will to the impulses of the sensibility, instead of abiding by the law of God, as revealed in the intelligence. Thus the Bible ascribes the first sin of our race to the influence of temptation.
(ii.) The Bible once, and only once, incidentally intimates that Adam’s first sin has in some way been the occasion, not the necessary physical cause, of all the sins of men. Rom_5:12-19.
(iii.) It neither says nor intimates anything in relation to the manner in which Adam’s sin has occasioned this result. It only incidentally recognizes the fact, and then leaves it, just as if the quo modo was too obvious to need explanation.
(iv.) In other parts of the Bible we are informed how we are to account for the existence of sin among men. For example, Jam_1:15, “When lust (‘desire’, epithumia) has conceived, it bringeth forth sin.” Here sin is represented, not as the desire itself, but as consisting in the consent of the will to gratify the desire.
James says again, that a man is tempted when he is drawn aside of his own lusts, (epithumia “desires”) and enticed. That is, his lusts, or the impulses of his sensibility, are his tempters. When he or his will is overcome of these, he sins.
(v.) Paul and other inspired writers represent sin as consisting in a carnal or fleshly mind, in the mind of the flesh, or in minding the flesh. It is plain that by the term flesh they mean what we understand by the sensibility, as distinguished from intellect, and that they represent sin as consisting in obeying, minding the impulses of the sensibility. They represent the world, and the flesh, and Satan, as the three great sources of temptation. It is plain that the world and Satan tempt by appeals to the flesh, or to the sensibility. Hence, the apostles have much to say of the necessity of the destruction of the flesh, of the members, of putting off the old man with his deeds, &c. Now, it is worthy of remark, that all this painstaking, on the part of inspiration, to intimate the source from whence our sin proceeds, and to apprise us of the proper method of accounting for it, and also of avoiding it, has probably been the occasion of leading certain philosophers and theologians who have not carefully examined the whole subject, to take a view of it which is directly opposed to the truth intended by the inspired writers. Because so much is said of the influence of the flesh over the mind, they have inferred that the nature and physical constitution of man is itself sinful. But the representations of Scripture are, that the body is the occasion of sin. The law in his members, that warred against the law of his mind, of which Paul speaks, is manifestly the impulse of the sensibility opposed to the law of the reason. This law, that is, the impulse of his sensibility, brings him into captivity, that is, influences his will, in spite of all his convictions to the contrary.
In short, the Bible rightly interpreted, everywhere assumes and implies, that sin consists in selfishness. It is remarkable, if the Bible be read with an eye to its teachings and assumptions on this point, to what an extent this truth will appear.
(4.) How moral depravity is to be accounted for.
(i.) It consists, remember, in the committal of the will to the gratification or indulgence of self–in the will’s following, or submitting itself to be governed by, the impulses and desires of the sensibility, instead of submitting itself to the law of God revealed in the reason.
(ii.) This definition of the thing shows how it is to be accounted for, namely; the sensibility acts as a powerful impulse to the will, from the moment of birth, and secures the consent and activity of the will to procure its gratification, before the reason is at all developed. The will is thus committed to the gratification of feeling and appetite, when first the idea of moral obligation is developed. This committed state of the will is not moral depravity, and has no moral character, until the idea of moral obligation is developed. The moment this idea is developed, this committal of the will to self-indulgence must be abandoned, or it becomes selfishness, or moral depravity. But, as the will is already in a state of committal, and has to some extent already formed the habit of seeking to gratify feeling, and as the idea of moral obligation is at first but feebly developed, unless the Holy Spirit interferes to shed light on the soul, the will, as might be expected, retains its hold on self-gratification. Here alone moral character commences, and must commence. No one can conceive of its commencing earlier. Let it be remembered, that selfishness consists in the supreme and ultimate choice, or in the preference of self-gratification as an end, or for its own sake, over all other interests. Now, as the choice of an end implies and includes the choice of the means, selfishness, of course, causes all that outward life and activity that makes up the entire history of sinners.
This selfish choice is the wicked heart–the propensity to sin–that causes what is generally termed actual transgression. This sinful choice is properly enough called indwelling sin. It is the latent, standing, controlling preference of the mind, and the cause of all the outward and active life. It is not the choice of sin itself, distinctly conceived of, or chosen as sin, but the choice of self-gratification, which choice is sin.
Again: It should be remembered, that the physical depravity of our race has much to do with our moral depravity. A diseased physical system renders the appetites, passions, tempers, and propensities more clamorous and despotic in their demands, and of course constantly urging to selfishness, confirms and strengthens it. It should be distinctly remembered that physical depravity has no moral character in itself. But yet it is a source of fierce temptation to selfishness. The human sensibility is, manifestly, deeply physically depraved; and as sin, or moral depravity, consists in committing the will to the gratification of the sensibility, its physical depravity will mightily strengthen moral depravity. Moral depravity is then universally owing to temptation. That is, the soul is tempted to self-indulgence, and yields to the temptation, and this yielding, and not the temptation, is sin or moral depravity. This is manifestly the way in which Adam and Eve became morally depraved. They were tempted, even by undepraved appetite, to prohibited indulgence, and were overcome. The sin did not lie in the constitutional desire of food, or of knowledge, or in the excited state of these appetites or desires, but in the consent of the will to prohibited indulgence.
Just in the same way all sinners become such, that is, they become morally depraved, by yielding to temptation to self-gratification under some form. Indeed, it is impossible that they should become morally depraved in any other way. To deny this were to overlook the very nature of moral depravity. It is remarkable, that President Edwards, after writing five hundred pages, in which he confounds physical and moral depravity; in answer to an objection of Dr. Taylor of England, that his view made God the author of the constitution, the author also of sin, turns immediately round, and without seeming aware of his own inconsistency, ascribes all sin to temptation, and makes it consist altogether in obeying the propensities, just as I have done. His words are–
“One argument against a supposed native, sinful depravity, which Dr. Taylor greatly insists upon, is, ‘that this does, in effect, charge Him who is the author of our nature, who formed us in the womb, with being the author of a sinful corruption of nature; and that it is highly injurious to the God of our nature, whose hands have formed and fashioned us, to believe our nature to be originally corrupted, and that in the worst sense of corruption.’
“With respect to this, I would observe, in the first place, that this writer, in handling this grand objection, supposes something to belong to the doctrine objected against, as maintained by the divines whom he is opposing, which does not belong to it, nor follow from it. As particularly, he supposes the doctrine of original sin to imply, that nature must be corrupted by some positive influence; ‘something, by some means or other, infused into human nature; some quality or other, not from the choice of our minds, but like a taint, tincture, or infection, altering the natural constitution, faculties, and dispositions of our souls! That sin and evil dispositions are implanted in the fetus in the womb.’ Whereas truly our doctrine neither implies nor infers any such thing. In order to account for a sinful corruption of nature, yea, a total native depravity of the heart of man, there is not the least need of supposing any evil quality infused, implanted, or wrought into the nature of man, by any positive cause or influence whatsoever, either from God, or the creature; or of supposing that man is conceived and born with a fountain of evil in his heart, such as is anything properly positive. I think a little attention to the nature of things will be sufficient to satisfy any impartial, considerate inquirer, that the absence of positive good principles, and so the withholding of a special divine influence to impart and maintain those good principles–leaving the common natural principles of self-love, natural appetite, &c, to themselves, without the government of superior divine principles, will certainly be followed with the corruption, yea, the total corruption of the heart, without occasion for any positive influences at all. And that it was thus in fact, that corruption of nature came on Adam immediately on his fall, and comes on all his posterity as sinning in him, and falling with him.
“The case with man was plainly this: When God made man at first he implanted in him two kinds of principles. There was an inferior kind which may be natural, being the principles of mere human nature; such as self-love, with those natural appetites and passions which belong to the nature of man, in which his love to his own liberty, honour, and pleasure, were exercised. These, when alone, and left to themselves, are what the scriptures sometimes call flesh. Besides these, there were superior principles, that were spiritual, holy, and divine, summarily comprehended in divine love; wherein consisted the spiritual image of God, and man’s righteousness and true holiness; which are called in scripture the divine nature. These principles may, in some sense, be called supernatural, being (however concreated or connate, yet) such as are above those principles that are essentially implied in, or necessarily resulting from, and inseparably connected with, mere human nature: and being such as immediately depend on man’s union and communion with God, or divine communications and influences of God’s Spirit, which though withdrawn, and man’s nature forsaken of these principles, human nature would be human nature still; man’s nature, as such, being entire without these divine principles, which the scripture sometimes calls spirit, in contradistinction to flesh. These superior principles were given to possess the throne, and maintain absolute dominion in the heart; the other to be wholly subordinate and subservient. And while things continued thus, all was in excellent order, peace, and beautiful harmony, and in a proper and perfect state. These divine principles thus reigning, were the dignity, life, happiness, and glory of man’s nature. When man sinned and broke God’s covenant, and fell under his curse, these superior principles left his heart; for, indeed, God then left him, that communion with God on which these principles depended, entirely ceased; the Holy Spirit, that divine inhabitant, forsook the house, because it would have been utterly improper in itself, and inconsistent with the constitution God had established, that he should still maintain communion with man, and continue, by his friendly, gracious, vital influences, to dwell with him and in him, after he was become a rebel, and had incurred God’s wrath and curse. Therefore, immediately the superior divine principles wholly ceased; so light ceases in a room when the candle is withdrawn; and thus man was left in a state of darkness, woeful corruption, and ruin; nothing but flesh without spirit. The inferior principles of self-love and natural appetite, which were given only to serve, being alone, and left to themselves, of course became reigning principles; having no superior principles to regulate or control them, they became the absolute masters of the heart. The immediate consequence of which was a fatal catastrophe, a turning of all things upside down, and the succession of a state of the most odious and dreadful confusion. Man immediately set up himself, and the objects of his private affections and appetites, as supreme, and so they took the place of God. These inferior principles were like fire in a house; which we say is a good servant, but a bad master; very useful while kept in this place, but if left to take possession of the whole house, soon brings all to destruction. Man’s love to his own honour, separate interests, and private pleasure, which before was wholly subordinate unto love to God, and regard to his authority and glory, now disposes and impels him to pursue those objects, without regard to God’s honour or law; because there is no true regard to these divine things left in him. In consequence of which, he seeks those objects as much when against God’s honour and law, as when agreeable to them. God still continuing strictly to require supreme regard to himself, and forbidding all undue gratification of these inferior passions; but only in perfect subordination to the ends, and agreeable to the rules and limits which his holiness, honour, and law prescribe; hence, immediately arises enmity in the heart, now wholly under the power of self-love; and nothing but war ensures, in a course against God. As when a subject has once renounced his lawful sovereign, and set up a pretender in his stead, a state of enmity and war against his rightful king necessarily ensues. It were easy to show, how every lust, and depraved disposition of man’s heart, would naturally arise from this privative original, if here were room for it. Thus it is easy to give an account, how total corruption of heart should follow on man’s eating the forbidden fruit, though that was but one act of sin, without God putting any evil into his heart, or implanting any bad principle, or infusing any corrupt taint, and so becoming the author of depravity. Only God’s withdrawing, as it was highly proper and necessary that he should, from rebel man, and his natural principles being left to themselves, is sufficient to account for his becoming entirely corrupt, and bent on sinning against God.
“And as Adam’s nature became corrupt, without God’s implanting or infusing of any evil thing into it; so does the nature of his posterity. God dealing with Adam as the head of his posterity, as has been shown, and treating them as one, he deals with his posterity as having all sinned in him. And therefore, as God withdrew spiritual communion, and his vital, gracious influence from all the members, as they come into existence; whereby they come into the world mere flesh, and entirely under the government of natural and inferior principles; and so become wholly corrupt, as Adam did.”–Edwards’ Works, pp. 532-538.
To sum up the truth upon this subject in few words, I would say–
1. Moral depravity in our first parents was induced by temptation addressed to the unperverted susceptibilities of their nature. When these susceptibilities became strongly excited, they overcame the will; that is, the human pair were over-persuaded, and fell under the temptation. This has been repeatedly said, but needs repetition in a summing up.
2. All moral depravity commences in substantially the same way. Proof:–
(1.) The impulses of the sensibility are developed, and gradually commencing from the birth, and depending on physical developement and birth.
(2.) The first acts of will are in obedience to these.
(3.) Self-gratification is the rule of action previous to the developement of reason.
(4.) No resistance is offered to the will’s indulgence of appetite, until a habit of self-indulgence is formed.
(5.) When reason affirms moral obligation, it finds the will in a state of habitual and constant committal to the impulses of the sensibility.
(6.) The demands of the sensibility have become more and more despotic every hour of indulgence.
(7.) In this state of things, unless the Holy Spirit interpose, the idea of moral obligation will be but dimly developed.
(8.) The will of course rejects the bidding of reason, and cleaves to self-indulgence.
(9.) This is the settling of a fundamental question. It is deciding in favour of appetite, against the claims of conscience and of God.
(10.) Light once rejected, can be afterwards more easily resisted, until it is nearly excluded altogether.
(11.) Selfishness confirms, and strengthens, and perpetuates itself by a natural process. It grows with the sinner’s growth, and strengthens with his strength; and will do so for ever, unless overcome by the Holy Spirit through the truth.
1. Adam, being the natural head of the race, would naturally, by the wisest constitution of things, greatly affect for good or evil his whole posterity.
2. His sin in many ways exposed his posterity to aggravated temptation. Not only the physical constitution of all men, but all the influences under which they first form their moral character, are widely different from what they would have been, if sin had never been introduced.
3. When selfishness is understood to be the whole of moral depravity, its quo modo, or in what way it comes to exist, is manifest. Clear conceptions of the thing will instantly reveal the occasion and manner.
4. The only difficulty in accounting for it, has been the false assumption, that there must be, and is, something lying back of the free actions of the will, which sustains to those actions the relation of a cause, that is itself sinful.
5. If holy Adam, and holy angels, could fall under temptations addressed to their undepraved sensibility, how absurd it is to conclude, that sin in those who are born with a physically depraved constitution, cannot be accounted for, without ascribing it to original sin, or to a nature that is in itself sinful.
6. Without divine illumination, the moral character will of course be formed under the influence of the flesh. That is, the lower propensities will of course influence the will, unless the reason be developed by the Holy Spirit, as was said by President Edwards, in the extract just quoted.
7. The dogma of constitutional moral depravity, is a part and parcel of the doctrine of a necessitated will. It is a branch of a grossly false and heathenish philosophy. How infinitely absurd, dangerous, and unjust, then, to embody it in a standard of Christian doctrine, to give it the place of an indispensable article of faith, and denounce all who will not swallow its absurdities, as heretics. O, shame!
8. We are unable to say precisely at what age infants become moral agents, and of course how early they become sinners. Doubtless there is much difference among children in this respect. Reason is developed in one earlier than in another, according to the constitution and circumstances.
A thorough consideration of the subject, will doubtless lead to the conviction, that children become moral agents much earlier than is generally supposed. The conditions of moral agency are, as has been repeatedly said in former lectures, the possession of the powers of moral agency, together with the developement of the ideas of the good or valuable, of moral obligation or oughtness–of right and wrong–of praise and blameworthiness. I have endeavoured to show, in former lectures, that mental satisfaction, blessedness or happiness, is the ultimate good. Satisfaction arising from the gratification of the appetites, is one of the earliest experiences of human beings. This no doubt suggest or developes, at a very early period, the idea of the good or the valuable. The idea is doubtless developed, long before the word that expresses it is understood. The child knows that happiness is good, and seeks it in the form of self-gratification, long before the terms that designate this state of mind are at all understood. It knows that its own enjoyment is worth seeking, and doubtless very early has the idea, that the enjoyment of others is worth seeking, and affirms to itself, not in words, but in idea, that it ought to please its parents and those around it. It knows, in fact, though language is as yet unknown, that it loves to be gratified, and to be happy, that it loves and seeks enjoyment for itself, and doubtless has the idea that it ought not to displease and distress those around it, but that it ought to endeavour to please and gratify them. This is probably among the first ideas, if not the very first idea, of the pure reason that is developed, that is, the idea of the good, the valuable, the desirable; and the next must be that of oughtness, or of moral obligation, or of right and wrong, &c. I say again, these ideas are, and must be developed, before the signs or words that express them are at all understood, and the words would never be understood except the idea were first developed. We always find, at the earliest period at which children can understand words, that they have the idea of obligation, of right and wrong. As soon as these words are understood by them, they recognize them as expressing ideas already in their own minds, and which ideas they have had further back than they can remember. Some, and indeed most persons, seem to have the idea, that children affirm themselves to be under moral obligation, before they have the idea of the good; that they affirm their obligation to obey their parents before they know, or have the idea of the good or of the valuable. But this is, and must be a mistake. They may and do affirm obligation to obey their parents, before they can express in language, and before they would understand, a statement of the grounds of their obligation. The idea, however, they have, and must have, or they could not affirm obligation. It is agreed, and cannot be denied, that moral obligation respects acts of will, and not strictly outward action. It is agreed, and cannot be denied, that obligation respects intelligent actions of will. It is also agreed, and cannot be denied, that all intelligent acts of will, and such as those to which moral obligation belongs, must respect ends or means. If, therefore, one has any true idea of moral obligation, it must respect acts of will or intentions. It must respect the choice of an end, or of means. If it respect the choice of a means, the idea of the end must exist. It cannot justly affirm obligation of anything but choice or intention, for, as a matter of fact, obligation belongs to nothing else. The fact is, the child knows that it ought to please its parent, and seek to make its parent happy. This it knows, that it ought to intend, long before it knows what the word intention means. Upon this assumption it bases all its affirmations in respect to its obligation to obey its parents and others that are around it. It regards its own satisfaction or enjoyment as a good, and seeks it, before it knows what the words mean that express this state of mind. It also knows, that the enjoyment of others is a good, and affirms not in word, but in idea, that it ought to seek the enjoyment of all. This idea is the basis upon which all affirmations of obligation rest, and if it be truly an idea of real obligation, it is impossible that the idea of the good, or of the value of enjoyment, should not be its base. To assert the contrary, is to overlook the admitted fact, that moral obligation must respect choice, and the choice of an end; that it must respect intention. It is absurd to suppose, that a being can truly affirm moral obligation, in respect to outward action before he has the idea of the obligation to will, or intend, an end. The idea of an end may not be developed in words, that is, the word expressive of the idea may not be understood, but the idea must be in the mind, in a state of developement, or there can be no affirmation of obligation. The fact is, there is a logical connection between the idea of the good, and the idea of moral obligation, of right and wrong, of praise and blameworthiness. These latter ideas cannot exist without the first, and the existence of that necessitates the developement of these. These are first truths of reason. In other words, these ideas are universally and necessarily developed in the minds of moral agents, and indeed their developement is the condition of moral agency. Most of the first truths are developed in idea, long before the language in which they are expressed is or can be understood. Thus the ideas of space, of time, of causality, of liberty of will, or ability, of the good, of oughtness, or obligation of right and wrong, of praise or blameworthiness, and many others, are developed before the meaning of these words is at all understood. Human beings come gradually to understand the words or signs that represent their ideas, and afterwards, so often express their ideas in words, that they finally get the impression that they received the idea from the word, whereas, in every instance, in respect to the first truths of reason, they had the idea long before they understood, or perhaps ever heard, the word that represents it, and was coined to express it.
9. Those persons who maintain the sinfulness of the constitutional appetites, must of course deny, that men can ever be entirely sanctified in this life, and must maintain, as they do, that death must complete the work of sanctification.
10. False notions of moral depravity lie at the foundation of all the objections I have seen to the doctrine of entire sanctification in this life.
11. A diseased nervous system is a fierce temptation. Some forms of disease expose the soul to much trial. Dyspeptic and nervous persons need superabounding grace.
12. Why sin is so natural to mankind. Not because their nature is itself sinful, but because the appetites and passions tend so strongly to self-indulgence. These are temptations to sin, but sin itself consists not in these appetites and propensities, but in the voluntary committal of the will to their indulgence. This committal of the will is selfishness, and when the will is once given up to sin, it is very natural to sin. The will once committed to self-indulgence as its end, selfish actions are in a sense spontaneous.
13. The doctrine of original sin, as held by its advocates, must essentially modify the whole system of practical theology. This will be seen as we proceed in our investigations.
14. The constitution of a moral being as a whole, when all the powers are developed, does not tend to sin, but strongly in an opposite direction; as is manifest from the fact that when reason is thoroughly developed by the Holy Spirit, it is more than a match for the sensibility, and turns the heart to God.
15. The difficulty is, that the sensibility gets the start of reason, and engages the attention in devising means of self-gratification, and thus retards, and in a great measure prevents, the developement of the ideas of the reason which were designed to control the will.
16. It is this morbid developement that the Holy Spirit is given to rectify, by so forcing truth upon the attention, as to secure the developement of the reason. By doing this, he brings the will under the influence of truth. Our senses reveal to us the objects correlated to our animal nature and propensities. The Holy Spirit reveals God and the spiritual world, and all that class of objects that are correlated to our higher nature, so as to give reason the control of the will. This is regeneration and sanctification, as we shall see in its proper place.