Page images

sin;"; Theory of the

(5) Another celebrated man (Calvin) has defined sin to be, accurately speaking, an act which obscures the glory of God. But all sin is not act. Neglect of duty is sin. The obscuring of divine glory is indeed consequent upon sin; but it does not constitute the nature or essence of sin ; and to this a definition should have peculiar respect.

(6) The celebrated Cocceius defines sin thus : Something which is deficient in respect to that rectitude in which an intelligent creature was first formed. This is less perspicuous than if he had simply said: Sin is παρανομία, Or παράβασης του vóuov, i. e. something committed against the law; as we have already defined it. Or the definition of Arminius may be adopted: A transgression of the divine law, whatever that law may be. Sins which are committed against those divine laws which are called doyuara or ordinances, would be hardly comprehended within the definition of Coccejus.

(7) The idea of sin involves the conception both of a law and of a SUBJECT; which latter is endowed with properties of such a nature that he can be obligated by law to the doing or omitting of something, and by the promulgation of such a law is actually obligated in this manner. Finally, it involves also the idea of an act, commanded or forbidden by the law, either neglected or committed.

(8) Law is essential to the idea of sin, because sin is not and cannot be so named, except in reference to a law. “Where there is no law, there is no transgression, Rom. 4: 15."

(9) Grotius defines law to be the rule of moral actions, obligating to that which is right. This is a commodious description of a good and just law, which is agreeable to the dictates of right reason. So Tully : “ The law is nothing more than right reason, derived from the influence of the gods, requiring what is just and probibiting what is not.”

(10) As we do not here seek after a partial and limited signification of the word, we simply say, that law is the rule of moral actions ; or rather, it is the command or prohibition of a ruler or superior, which regulates the voluntary actions of an inferior who is subject to him ; (in the language of the Schoolmen, [Lex] modificat liberos actus).

(11) Law, therefore, (as well as Sin), involves the idea, (a) OF A RATIONAL SUBJECT, i. e. a free agent, furnished with the faculties necessary for action, who is adequate to determine for himself, deliberately and voluntarily from internal principle, in respect to the doing or not doing of any particular thing.

(13) m or to be princiated by the cons

(12) Consequently, animals destitute of reason ; which do not act from design, but from natural impetus and instinct ; which have no idea of God, and no consciousness of right and wrong ; cannot be obligated by the law to the performance of duty on reasonable principles, and therefore cannot properly be said to sin or to be delinquent.

(13) But, (6) Law implies a rational subject, which is inferior to the lawgiver in this respect, viz., that the lawgiver as a ruler or master bas the right of command in respect to the actions and deportment of him who is under subjection.

(14) That circumstance, on which the right of command ; and the reason of obedience are founded, is undoubtedly the dependence of one being on another; and the greater this is, the greater is the right of command and authority over bim who is the subject. Entire dependence implies the entire right of authority in him on whom we depend, and obligates the subject to universal and most humble obedience in every action. Such is the authority of God over his creatures; and such the obedience which creatures owe to him, as being entirely dependent on him.

(15) This perfect authority and this entire obedience, from the very fact that they are perfect and entire, exclude all other authority and obedience as just and legitimate, because they are inconsistent with the duty which the creature owes to God, and because the authority of God is not subordinate, and no other authority can be lawful, except such as is in subordination to him. Whatever authority, therefore, parents may have over children, masters over servants, magistrates and rulers over subjects, whatever of duty may be enjoined by the former upon the latter, (and a right to cammand the former possess, so far as others are subject to them),—all this is derived from divine authority. Teijaogeiv di Ted uālhov ñ á vigorous, Acts 5: 29. Trotúynte oùr ndon áviomnívn xulose did tov kuglov, 1 Pet. 2: 13.

(16) But, (c) since a rational being cannot be subject as an inferior to another as superior, unless it is of finite perfection, it is plain that law properly regarded, and moreover that sin also, presupposes a rational subject of finite perfection. Consummate perfection excludes a law from being prescribed by another, (for it is a law to itself and acknowledges no superior); and therefore it neither admits of sin, nor commits it. If indeed we could conceive of a being absolutely perfect, who should do things inconsistent with the rule of truth and goodness, (which

rule is inherent in the judgment and will of absolute perfection); if such a being, I say, could do those things which do not contribute to the glory of its perfections; then this would be sin, in so much as it would be deserting itself and failing in respect to a proper regard for itself. But as perfect attributes exclude the idea of self-desertion, so a perfect being must of course be sinless and unimpeachable. The highest perfection involves the idea of perfect reason; and this can do nothing contrary to reason, and what is consonant with reason is good and virtuous, it is the opposite of evil and sin. If now consummate perfection cannot cease to be what it is, then it cannot sin. But ihe matter is too clear to need further illustration.

A rational subject then being supposed, who is endowed with the faculty of free agency, and his obligation to a superior being also conceded, the law circumscribes the actions of such a subject. It teaches or demonstrates what is to be done or not to be done, (and this is the proper force of the Hebrew word nin, which is derived from gia to teach, to demonstrate,); or it prescribes in what manner a thing is to be done or not to be done; it decides between things to be done and not to be done, and the respective modes of each ; whence the Greek word vóuos (from véum]. The object of law, therefore, is twofold; actions, and modes of actions.

(18) The law has to do with actions, when it either commands or prohibits them, when it orders or forbids this or that to be done; it concerns modes of action, when it merely and solely defines the modes of things to be done or omitted. For example ; the law which required that the paschal lamb should be eaten, concerned the act itself; but the law which required that it should be slain on the evening of the fourteenth day of the month Nisan, and eaten with unleavened bread and bitter herbs, had respect, with regard to these particulars, only to the manner in which the passover was to be celebrated. The apostolic injunction, which forbade women to prophesy with their heads uncovered, had respect only to the mode of action; concerning the act itself nothing particular is prescribed.

(19) The acts of rational beings, and the modes of them, may be modified by law in a two-fold way, either by ordering that they shall be done, or by forbidding that they shall be done. Hence the distinction of law into precept and interdict, i. e. do or thou shalt do, and thou shalt not do; which was the most common distinction among the Hebrewś.

(20) If such a law is agreeable to the nature and attributes of the ruler who gives it authority, and of the subjects to whom it is prescribed, and also to the mutual relation of the two parties; if it does not exceed the ability and strength of the subject ; and if manifest utility will redound to those who are to obey it, from the observance of it, so that the reason of the law may be clearly seen by all; then it is named equitable, just, and good.

(21) Inasmuch as no one can be obligated by a law to do or omit any thing, unless the pleasure of the lawgiver be made koown to him, and expressed in language that is plain and intelligible, it is clear that the notion of law and of sin supposes or involves the idea, that the pleasure of the lawgiver, as expressed in the law, should be made known to the subject by the clearest indications, or at least publicly promulgated, so that ignorance of the law, without a confession of culpable neglect, cannot possibly be made a pretext for excusing any crime committed against the law.

(22) All these conditions being presupposed, then sin may take place ; which is nothing more than a transgression of the law, or something done contrary to law, as we have already described it to be.

(23) Inasniuch as a law either commands or forbids, dilinquency respecting it may be of two kinds ; either by neglecting to do what the law requires, or by doing that which it forbids. Hence the division of sins into those of omission and commission. The law prohibits theft ; he who steals becomes a delinquent. The law requires us to revere parents and magistrates; he who neglects to do so, commits sin. To do what the law forbids, to neglect what it commands, is to sin. This seems to be altogether plain and clear.

(24) These considerations are adduced to shew the general nature of sin. They may be easily transferred to offences committed against the divine Being ; the nature of which offences it is our present design to investigate.”

After this introductory discussion Vitringa goes on to shew that God is our supreme and rightful Governor; that we owe him entire obedience; that his law is holy, just, and good ; and that neglect to do what it requires, or the doing of that which it prohibits, is sin; and that, considered in this light, all sin is delinquency in respect to the law or a violation of it. This he does for a two-fold purpose; first in order to answer Poiret's book entitled Cogitationes Rationales, secondly with an intention to oppose a favorite dogma of many high orthodox theologians of his time respecting the nature of evil. Believing, as these theologians did and rightly did, that the providence of God extends to all actions and events, whether good or evil, in order to avoid the conclusion urged upon them by those who doubted or impugned this position, viz., that such a position necessarily involves the belief that God is the author of sin, they defined sin to be merely something privative, and not properly an actual thing or a real existence. Hence, as they argued, no positive cause was necessary, but merely a deficient or negative cause; and such a cause man himself could be.

In the same way President Edwards endeavours to avoid the imputation cast by some upon such views as he entertained respecting original sin, by the supposition that no positive or efficient cause is necessary. He compares it to the darkness of night, which is not positively occasioned by the influence of the sun, but is a matter of course when the sun once withdraws his light.

Vitringa, in opposition to such views, goes on to shew, that, at all events, sins of commission are something positive and real, and cannot be consistently regarded as a mere negation or something simply privative.

It is not to my present purpose to follow him out in his arguments with respect to this topic. They are, as we may easily believe, triumphant and irrefutable. The whole speculation, on the part of those theologians whom he opposes, appears to be nothing more than an illusion, occasioned and sustained by hairsplitting distinctions of terminology, made in entire accordance with the manner of the most subtile efforts of Thomas Aquinas or Duns Scotus.

I cannot refrain, however, from presenting my readers here with one passage from Poiret, whorn Vitringa has undertaken in particular to refute. It reminds one so forcibly of many passages with which he meets in the transcendental writers of our day, who lay claim to the credit of new discoveries in the art of philosophizing, that he cannot refrain from believing, that after all, “there is nothing new under the sun.” I shall not attempt to translate the passage ; and this, for the simple but altogether sufficient reason, at least sufficient in respect to me, that I

« PreviousContinue »