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I remark first: God is not the author of sin. Whatever may be its origin, or the causes which produce it, certain it is, God neither influences us to sin nor made us so we cannot avoid sinning. There are some, however, who would absolve man from the responsibility of wrong doing by charging it upon God. They maintain that man is a creature of necessity and a tool of circumstances. He is the product of environment, and a puppet caught in the whirling wheels of a huge machine. He is but a plaything in the hands of brainless, soulless, inexorable law. So far from being able to settle the issues of life by his own choice, he is within the grip of extraneous forces, over which he has absolutely no control. He did not create himself, and therefore, is not responsible for what he is. Nor did he come into the world through any choice of his own, and therefore, is not responsible for what he does. His liberty has been made impossible by decrees which
formed in eternity, with which he had absolutely nothing to do. He is but a projectile shot forth by a divine fiat, and is compelled to describe a calculating course, swerving never an inch from the original divine purpose. He pursues fixed lines of action, not because he wants to, but because he must. He can only follow the course which has already been blocked out for him. His acts were fore-ordained before he was born, and whatever comes to pass in his life was predestinated. There is a compulsion in his constitution and a fatalistic necessity in his circumstances. He is but a weather vane, bandied about by the whims of providence, and a shuttle-cock, controlled all together by extraneous influences.
It needs little insight to see that this view is more an evasion than an argument. It makes God a heartless tyrant, who gloats over the waywardness and wrong doing of prodigal man. It makes life a game of chance, where chaos seems to be preferred to character. It makes man a machine, instead of a master and an autocrat, and accords to him less autonomy and dignity than the most insignificant animal. It makes the universe a great mill, the only aim of which is to grind men to powder, and passing through its curriculum, they are crushed instead of crowned.
This is fatalism, as bald as it is damning, and as gross as it is destructive. It is an apology for sin and a subterfuge for escape. Nothing would be more pleasing
than to shift the responsibility of ones' sins, once one had committed them. It would be an easy means of escape if we could find absolution through constitutional inability.
This error is as dangerous as it is prevalent. It is grounded on a false assumption, both as to the character of God and the nature of man. On the one hand, it overlooks God's goodness and justice; and on the other, man's moral freedom and responsibility. Even in our enlightened day, this fatalistic view is not without its advocates. It has been buttressed, not less by a false theology than by the sophistry of a materialistic philosophy. Multitudes have entrenched themselves behind it and have sought thus to escape both from the responsibility and penalty of wrong doing.
Over against this false view I set the invincible logic of this text. I repeat, God is not the author of sin. Nor, is any man forced to sin. It is not reasonable to suppose that God made man so he must sin. It would be inconsistent with His nature. Nothing is more heinous in his sight than sin; and it is the one thing in all the universe which has sent a pang into His loving heart. It is inconsistent with His purpose. Sin is just the thing He would most studiously avoid, and now that it is a fact, it is the one thing from which He is doing His utmost to save men. Had it been His purpose that man should sin, it would now be His purpose that he should be damned. It will be seen the one is as inconsistent as the the other. Although, however, He did not make man so he must sin, He did make man so he could sin. Without the power to sin, man could not be a moral being. If he could not sin, he might be a machine, but not a man. His dignity, therefore, lies in his moral freedom. His greatness does not lie in his sinning, but in the power to sin. If he could not sin, neither could he do good, for the same freedom and ability which enables him to do the one also enables him to do the other. It is the abuse of his ability and the prostitution of his liberty that makes him a sinner.
I remark second: Man is the author of his own sin. He does what he knows to be wrong, not because he has to, but because he wants to. Being a free agent he may do either right or wrong. He chooses his own lines of procedure and follows certain courses of action in obedience to his own will. He is endowed with the ability
to discern between good and evil. He is not forced to do one instead of the other; but if he acts at all, he must do one or the other.
What is sin? Sin is the deliberate, conscious, intentional choice of a wrong course. It is doing wrong, knowingly and willfully. It is preferring bad to good, and choosing bad instead of good. We settle the issues of life in our own conscience and will. Obedience to right brings good, disobedience evil. We stand at the parting of the ways. In every act we obey or disobey according to our own desire.
Whatever may be thought of the old story of Eden, it is verified in every human life. One may not believe in its literal history, but he must concede the truth of its experimental testimony. We stand before the tree of the knowledge of good and evil almost every hour. As with Adam, so with us, the questions of life and death are settled by our choices. We may demolish Eden by wrong doing, or dress and keep the garden of life by doing right. The tragedy of Eden is repeated in every sin. Certainly, there is no real garden nor actual trees, nor talking serpent; but there is forbidden fruit, of which are commanded not to eat, and which if we do eat, we experience the bitterness of sin. God's warning voice beats on the ear of every son of Adam, and he may stand or fall, according to his own desire, when facing any critical issue of life. Any man may have fruits and flowers or thorns and thistles, if he chooses. Our sin, therefore cannot be charged to Adam. Each man has his own Eden, and he may keep it or despoil it. The same passions and appe tites which prompted the first man to sin still prompt men today. Original sin in our nature there may be, and this may have been handed down, as some think, from the first pair, but actual sin there certainly is, every time a man disobeys the law of right.
I remark third: The genesis of sin is found in man's desires and passions. He is enticed through his thoughts and drawn away through his inclinations. Sin is always first an inward desire, before it can be an outward act. We always want to sin before we do sin. The purpose to do wrong is first matured in the thought, and afterward passes into act. The desire to sin must be stimulated before the plan, according to which we sin, is formulated. Let no one suppose, however, that a man is culpable
because he possesses desires and appetites. If he did not possess them, he would be emasculated.
Time was when men sought to eradicate their appetites instead of striving to educate them. Hence it was that invalidism was thought to be synonymous with religion. By as much as man was sickly and emaciated, by so much he was pious and consecrated; but we now know that he is of the greatest spiritual force who possesses the most vigorous animality, provided his passions and appetites are directed and controlled by his reason. The gymnasium has been set over against the church, and muscularity is recognized as fundamental to morality and manliness. We are not asked to destroy our appetites and passions, but to control them. We sin, then, only when we mature the desire in thought and gratify it in act. Who, therefore, would safeguard his life must guard his thoughts. On this great truth Christian Science has laid special emphasis. Although I am not a Christian Scientist, and there is much in this cult which I do not endorse, yet every intelligent man must confess that it has a basis in fact. To this rapidly growing faith and the new psychology of our time, we owe much for their emphasis upon the profound truth that thought rules the world. We must kill sin in embryo. We must keep the seed of evil from germinating in the soil of thought if we would prevent a crop of noxious growths. We must keep the eggs of wrong out of the nest of our minds if we would not hatch out a brood of vultures. It is useless to deal with effects and go on ignoring causes. Until we purify the source and keep it pure, the stream will always be muddy.
It is significant that every sin has its history and development from its inception to its maturity. The steps from its origin to its maturity may be marked. We are neither caught in the clutches of a demon nor knocked down by a thunder bolt. No man is dragged into sin without warning or opportunity for resistance. He is drawn away of his own passions and enticed by his own desires. We pass under the hypnotic spell of sin by degrees. We are charmed as by a serpent. We are enticed as by one who woos. We are captured as the angler captures the fish, or decoyed as the fowler the bird. But our autonomy is seen and felt at every step. We may
prevent the inception, the development or the consummation of any sin.
When sin is finished its last stage is death. When matured, it is as destructive as it is awful. It stabs the soul and poisons the fountains of life. It dethrones reason and conquers the centers of man's being. Sweeping down into life, and out into conduct, it destroys homes, sheds blood and leaves wreck and ruin in its wake. When it is finished, it brings forth death. Death to holiness and happiness. Death to usefullness and service. Death to the joy of the present and to all hope for the future. Death to home and health, love and friendship, peace and purity. History teems with examples of its awful ravages. It was finished when Eden was despoiled, and failing to appreciate his privileges and rise to the dignity of his situation man lost his footing and went forth to be a vagabond and a wanderer. It was finished when the antideluvian world was deluged, and because of their wickedness an infant race was all but wiped from the face of the earth. It was finished when Greece gave herself over to idolatry and laid the wealth of her civilization, her art, her literature and her learning on the altar of paganism. It was finished when Rome steeped herself in sensuality, and dedicating her marshal splendor to shame and brutality, the scream of her eagles on land and sea became a synonym for crime. It was finished when France swung off into the maelstrom of atheism and wickedness, and burning the bible as a denunciation of its teaching, her people bowed down in worship to a harlot and wrote over the doors of her temples, death is an eternal sleep.
Sin has baptised the world with tears. It has imbittered life. It has dug the grave of a thousand hopes. It has strewn the shores of time with wreck and ruin. Man need not be told that he needs a savior. There is a path upward and out from that which damns. God's great heart bleeds and yearns for every wandering man. It was to show us God's heart that Christ came to the world, and it was his mission to save from sin. The path that leads to the stars He marked out, and with open arms He beckons men upward.