CONTAINING ANSWERS TO OBJECTIONS
CONCERNING THE OBJECTION, THAT TO SUPPOSE MEN BORN IN SIN, WITHOUT THEIR CHOICE, OR ANY PREVIOUS ACT OF THEIR OWN, IS TO SUPPOSE WHAT IS INCONSISTENT WITH THE NATURE OF SIN
SOME of the objections made against the doctrine of original sin, which have reference to particular arguments used in defense of it, have been already considered in the handling of those arguments. What I shall therefore now consider, are such objections as I have not yet had occasion to notice.
There is no argument Dr. T. insists more upon, than that which is taken from the Arminian and Pelagian notion of freedom of will, consisting in the will’s self-determination, as necessary to the being of moral good or evil. He often urges, that if we come into the world infected with sinful and depraved dispositions, then sin must be natural to us; and if natural, then necessary; and if necessary, then no sin, nor anything we are blamable for, or that can in any respect be our fault, being what we cannot help: and he urges, that sin must proceed from our own choice, etc.
Here I would observe in general, that the forementioned notion of freedom of will, as essential to moral agency, and necessary to the very existence of virtue and sin, seems to be a grand favorite point with Pelagians and Arminians, and all divines of such characters, in their controversies with the orthodox. There is no one thing more fundamental in their schemes of religion: on the determination of this one leading point depends the issue of almost all controversies we have with such divines. Nevertheless, it seems a needless task for me particularly to consider that matter in this place; having already largely discussed it, with all the main grounds of this notion, and the arguments used to defend it, in a late book on this subject, to which I ask leave to refer the reader. It is very necessary, that the modern prevailing doctrine concerning this point, should be well understood, and therefore thoroughly considered and examined: for without it there is no hope of putting an end to the controversy about original sin, and innumerable other controversies that subsist, about many of the main points of religion. I stand ready to confess to the forementioned modern divines, if they can maintain their peculiar notion of freedom, consisting in the self-determining power of the will, as necessary to moral agency, and can thoroughly establish it in opposition to the arguments lying against it, then they have an impregnable castle, to which they may repair, and remain invincible, in all the controversies they have with the reformed divines, concerning original sin, the sovereignty of grace, election, redemption, conversion, the efficacious operation of the Holy Spirit, the nature of saving faith, perseverance of the saints, and other principles of the like kind. However, at the same time, I think this will be as strong a fortress for the Deists, in common with them; as the great doctrines, subverted by their notion of freedom, are so plainly and abundantly taught in the Scripture. But I am under no apprehensions of any danger, which the cause of Christianity, or the religion of the reformed, is in, from any possibility of that notion being ever established, or of its being ever evinced that there is not proper, perfect, and manifold demonstration lying against it. But as I said, it would be needless for me to enter into a particular disquisition of this point here; from which I shall easily be excused by any reader who is willing to give himself the trouble of consulting what I have already written. And as to others, probably they will scarce be at the pains of reading the present discourse; or at least would not, if it should be enlarged by a full consideration of that controversy.
I shall at this time therefore only take notice of some gross inconsistencies that Dr. T. has been guilty of, in his handling this objection against the doctrine of original sin. In places which have been cited, he says, that sin must proceed from our own choice: and that if it does not, it being necessary to us, it cannot be sin, it cannot be our fault, or what we are to blame for: and therefore all our sin must be chargeable on our choice, which is the cause of sin: for he says, the cause of every effect is alone chargeable with the effect it produceth, and which proceedeth from it (Page 128). Now here are implied several gross contradictions. He greatly insists, that nothing can be sinful, or have the nature of sin, but what proceeds from our choice. Nevertheless he says, “Not the effect, but the cause alone is chargeable with blame.” Therefore the choice, which is the cause, is alone blamable, or has the nature of sin; and not the effect of that choice. Thus nothing can be sinful, but the effect of choice; and yet the effect of choice never can be sinful, but only the cause, which alone is chargeable with all the blame.
Again, the choice, from which sin proceeds, is itself sinful. Not only is this implied in his saying, “The cause alone is chargeable with all the blame;” but he expressly speaks of the choice as faulty (Page 190), and calls that choice wicked, from which depravity and corruption proceeds (Page 200. See also p. 216). Now if the choice itself be sin, and there be no sin but what proceeds from a sinful choice, then the sinful choice must proceed from another antecedent choice; it must be chosen by a foregoing act of will, determining itself to that sinful choice, that so it may have that which he speaks of as absolutely essential to the nature of sin, namely, that it proceeds from our choice, and does not happen to us necessarily. But if the sinful choice itself proceeds from a foregoing choice, then also that foregoing choice must be sinful; it being the cause of sin, and so alone chargeable with the blame. Yet if that foregoing choice be sinful, then neither must that happen to us necessarily, but must likewise proceed from choice, another act of choice preceding that: for we must remember, that “Nothing is sinful but what proceeds from our choice.” And then, for the same reason, even this prior choice, last mentioned, must also be sinful, being chargeable with all the blame of that consequent evil choice, which was its effect. And so we must go back till we come to the very first volition, the prime or original act of choice in the whole chain. And this to be sure must be a sinful choice, because this is the origin or primitive cause of all the train of evils which follow; and according to our author, must therefore be “alone chargeable with all the blame.” And yet so it is, according to him, this “cannot be sinful,” because it does not “proceed from our own choice,” or any foregoing act of our will; it being, by the supposition, the very first act of will in the case. And therefore it must be necessary, as to us, having no choice of ours to be the cause of it.
In p. 232 he says, “Adam’s sin was from his own disobedient will; and so must every man’s sin, and all the sin in the world be, as well as his.” By this, it seems, he must have a disobedient will” before he sins; for the cause must be before the effect: and yet that disobedient will itself is sinful; otherwise it could not be called disobedient. But the question is, How do men come by the disobedient will, this cause of all the sin in the world? It must not come necessarily, without men’s choice; for if so, it is not sin, nor is there any disobedience in it. Therefore that disobedient will must also come from a disobedient will; and so on, in infinitum. Otherwise it must be supposed, that there is some sin in the world, which does not come from a disobedient will: contrary to our author’s dogmatical assertions.
In p. 166. S. he says, “Adam could not sin without a sinful inclination.” Here he calls that inclination itself sinful, which is the principle from whence sinful acts proceed; as elsewhere he speaks of the disobedient will from whence all sin comes: and he allows [Contents of Rom. chap. 7 in Notes on the epistle.], that “the law reaches to all the latent principles of sin;” meaning plainly, that it forbids, and threatens punishment for, those latent principles. Now these latent principles of sin, these sinful inclinations, without which, according to our author, there can be no sinful act, cannot all proceed from a sinful choice; because that would imply great contradiction. For, by the supposition, they are the principles from whence a sinful choice comes, and whence all sinful acts of will proceed; and there can be no sinful act without them. So that the first latent principles and inclinations, from whence all sinful acts proceed, are sinful; and yet they are not sinful, because they do not proceed from a wicked choice, without which, according to him, “nothing can be sinful.”
Dr. T. speaking of that proposition of the Assembly of Divines, wherein they assert, that man is by nature utterly corrupt, etc. (Page 125) thinks himself well warranted, by the supposed great evidence of these his contradictory notions, to say, “Therefore sin is not natural to us; and therefore I shall not scruple to say, this proposition in the Assembly of Divines is FALSE.” But it may be worthy of consideration, whether it would not have greatly become him, before he had clothed himself with so much assurance, and proceeded, on the foundation of these his notions, so magisterially to charge the Assembly’s proposition with falsehood, to have taken care that his own propositions, which he has set in opposition to them, should be a little more consistent; that he might not have contradicted himself, while contradicting them; lest some impartial judges, observing his inconsistency, should think they had warrant to declare with equal assurance, that “they should not scruple to say, Dr. T.’s doctrine is FALSE.”
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