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II. Its Nature.
As to the exact nature of this innate depravity, and the propriety of the terms by which it has often been designated, various opinions have been and may be entertained. The earlier Christian fathers confined their attention to the reality and origin of this depravity. But St. Augustine felt the necessity of ascertaining something concerning its nature, which he believed to consist in concupiscence, in “the flesh lusting against the spirit.” Others defined it as consisting in the want of that moral excellence, which constituted the image of God in man prior to the fall. The Augsburg Confession seems to combine both these views, and the great body of Lutheran divines has regarded natural, or original, or innate depravity, as that disorder in the mental and bodily constitution of man, which was introduced by the fall of Adam,' is transmitted by natural generationa from parent to child, and the result of which is, that all men who are naturally engendered, evince in their action want of holiness, and a predisposition to sin.3
Whether this natural depravity is originally of equal strength in all men, is a question on which different opinions have been entertained. That it is total, that is, extends to all our powers, is certain. The phrase, original sin has, by some writers, been used to signify not only our natural depravity, but also that individual act of transgression, by which our first parents apostatized from God; but as the two are evidently distinct, they ought to be designated by different names.
1 Rom. 5: 12. Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin, &c.
2 John 3: 6. That which is born of the flesh is flesh.
III. The Consequences of natural depravity.
On this important subject, the language of the Confession is somewhat indistinct. The first signification, which the words admit, is, that the natural depravity, with which we are born, is prior to all voluntary action by us, charged to us as guilt, and itself entails endless perdition on all who are not delivered from the curse by true conversion. Those of our earlier divines who embraced this view of the subject, always used the phrase original sin to signify not only our native disposition to sin, but also the original act of apostasy by our first parents. They did not suppose, that we are punished for the mere fact of being born with sinful propensities; but considering Adam as the federal head of the whole human family, believed that by virtue of some covenant relation to him, the guilt of his personal voluntary act was imputed to his posterity, and thus involved them all in the curse of temporal and eternal death.
The second interpretation, which the latter clause of this Article admits is, that “this disease or natural disorder of our bodily and mental constitution, is really contrary to the will of God, and still becomes the occasion of eternal death, to all who voluntarily indulge in these sinful propensities, and do not avail themselves of those means of grace by which the Holy Spirit regenerates the soul. The confession mentions only one of these means, namely, baptism, but it is evident that its authors did not intend to designate this as the only means of grace, for the German copy of it, published by Melancthon himself in 1533, reads thus ; “who are not regenerated by baptism and faith in Christ, through the gospel and Holy Spirit.” From this it is also evident, that Melancthon, who, as is well known, penned the
I See the excellent recent work of Dr. Funk, in Lubec. Aug. Confession according to the principal edition of Melancthon himself, with the various readings of other editions.” p. 6.
Confession, had reference to adults in the clause “condemneth those who are not born again,” because infants are incapable either of reading or understanding "the gospel.” The advocates of this view do not believe, that the progenitor of the human race did or could sustain any such relation to his posterity, as would render just a literal imputation of the guilt of his sins to them. The Lutheran church regards either of these opinions as consistent with the belief of the general doctrine of natural depravity, though her divines, at present, very generally embrace the latter.
Our own views on this disputed subject, may be summed up in the following features :
1. All mankind, in consequence of their descent from fallen Adam, are born with a depraved nature, that is, their bodily and mental system is so disordered, as in the result of its operation to evince a predisposition to sin.
2. This natural depravity disqualifies its subjects for heaven. Because the action of depraved (disordered) faculties and powers, would not even in heaven itself, be conformed to the divine law, and could not be acceptable to God. In our natural state, moreover, we have not the qualifications requisite for the enjoyment of heaven, having no spiritual appetites. But we cannot suppose, that God would condemn us to positive and eternal misery, merely on account of this depraved (disordered) nature ;3 for we are in no sense the authors or causes of it;
1 Ezek. 18: 2. 3. 20. Deut. 24: 16. Hos. 13: 9.
2 On this subject, our divines therefore agree substantially with the great body of New England theologians, and with such ministers of the Presbyterian church, as have rejected the doctrine of literal imputation in the old sense of the term,
3 Ezekiel 18: 20. The soul that sinneth it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son. See the whole chapter. Deut. 24: 16. The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers ; every man shall be put to death for his own sin.
and a just God will not punish his creatures for acts which they did not perform. Children, therefore, who die in their infancy, having never merited punishment by personal guilt, will indubitably not be consigned to perdition. Moreover as the atonement which the Saviour made, embraces the whole world, it must also include children, who are a part of it; and as that atonement not only delivered its subjects from punishment, but also purchased for them a title to heaven; it follows, that children, having not lost their title by voluntary unbelief, will for Christ's sake enjoy the benefit of it, that is, that at death their corruptible nature shall be transformed into an incorruptible, and their mortal into an immortal one, and they, liberated from their moral disease, be ushered into the blissful presence of him, who said " suffer little children to come unto me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”
3. Strongly tempted by the solicitations of this depraved nature, which are however not irresistible, all men do, when they reach the years of moral agency, voluntarily indulge more or less in known sin, and thus, contracting personal guilt, expose themselves to the just displeasure of an offended God.
4. All actual or real sin, consists in voluntary actions and their consequences, viz.
a) Deliberate, voluntary transgressions of the divine law.
b) Acts performed from mere habit, without design or premeditation. As these habits are formed by individual, voluntary acts ; they are properly the result of our voluntary agency, and justly chargeable to us. Hence, every profane word, every falsehood uttered by the habitual swearer and liar, and every lascivious thought of the sensualist, though they occurred spontaneously, from mere habit, without design, and often almost without the persons being conscious of the fact, are nevertheless actual sins, and justly expose the transgressor to the penalty of the divine law.
c) The state of our feelings or affections on moral subjects,
so far as it is the result of our voluntary and habitual transgressions, in like manner involves us in condemnation. Every penitent sinner, and every enlightened believer, must deplore as his own personal guilt the insensibility of his heart, the instability of his affections. We do not mean, that our feelings are under the instantaneous control of volition. The contrary is evidently the fact. No careless sinner can by a mere act of his will, excite feelings of penitence for sin. And it is, to say the least, useless for ministers to exhort him to do so. His intellectual views must first be corrected. He must be persuaded attentively to reflect on the character and law of God, on his own character and real interests, on the offers of pardon through a crucified Redeemer, and as he sincerely embraces correct views on these subjects, the correspondent, appropriate feelings will be excited in his mind. And the state of his religious affections throughout life, is dependent on the general course of conduct which lie is pursuing, that is, on his voluntary actions, including the faithful use of those means of grace, through which the Holy Spirit operates on the soul.
d) We are guilty on account of the erroneous or inadequate views which we adopt on the subject of religion. Without entering into a discussion of the several sources of errors in religious opinion, we remark, that they arise, in general, from voluntary neglect or abuse of the means of information, which God has vouchsafed us; and, so far as this is the case, are justly laid to our charge. According to the laws of our nature, these views are constantly recurring to the mind, and exert an important influence on our conduct and feelings. And finally, the load of our guilt is augmented still more,
e) By our omitting to attain the highest degree of holiness and usefulness, which was within our reach, by a constant and faithful use of all the means of knowledge and of grace, which God in his providence extended to us. And now, when we reflect on the vast extent of criminality, attached to our