Images de page
PDF
ePub

virtue. By their natural birth men only become human, reasonable, accountable beings. “What is born of the flesh is flesh." They receive by their natural birth only the human nature. They receive no moral character, but only the faculties and powers, in the exercise of which a moral character is to be formed. The formation of this character introduces them into a new state of being, and by whatever means, and at whatever time it takes place, it may be called, by no very remote or unusual figure, a new birth ; and those, who have thus acquired a moral character, and received the principles of a spiritual life, in addition to the natural human life, may be said to be born again. Now if this was what Jesus meant in what he said to Nicodemus, it will no more imply original sin, than original holi

It will only imply the absence or want of that, which was necessary to becoming a subject of the kingdom of God. The terms new birth, born again, born of the spirit, renewed, become a new man, are applied with as much propriety to those, who receive the influences of the Gospel, and acquire the character, which it is intended to form, on the supposition of original innocence and purity, as upon that of native depravity and original sinfulness. In each case alike, it expresses a great moral change, and implies the formation of a new character, not possessed before. On the supposition, therefore, that this passage refers, as is generally supposed by interpreters, to that great moral change, which the religion of the Gospel is to produce on those who embrace it, in order to their being fit members of the kingdom of heaven on earth and in glory; it will be seen to be nothing to the purpose of those, who attempt to build upon it the doctrine of a moral depravity, with which all men are born into the world. It will only imply, that they do not possess by birth that character of personal holiness and positive virtue, which is necessary to their being Christians, fit subjects of the present and future kingdom of God.

ness.

The passage, (Rom. v. 12) “ Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin, and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned,” is of another kind, and to be shown to have no relation to the subject by other considerations. The whole force of this passage, (if it have any, as relates to this subject,) lies in the last clause, “For that all have sinned.” Now if this clause be understood in a sense, which shall prove any thing to the purpose, it will prove the genuine old Calvinistic doctrine, the imputation of Adam's sin. It leads back to the notion of a federal head, of Adam's acting not only on his own responsibility, but for all his posterity ; acting in their stead, so that his action was theirs, and they "sinned in him and fell with him in his first transgression.” They are all sinners by the sin of him, their representative, federal head. The myriads who die in earliest infancy, before it is possible for them to perform any act, or to have any volition, either sinful or virtuous, yet die because they are sinners. They are sinners then by the sin of another, by the imputation

of sin to them; and this is the true doctrine of Calvinism ; and this, it seems to me, is also the doctrine of Dr. Woods, notwithstanding his explicit rejection of it, as stated in words. For besides that he acquiesces in the qualified statement of Stapfer, (p. 45) (which, after all, must mean the doctrine of imputation in its full extent, if it have any intelligible meaning ; since God's giving Adam a posterity like himself, if it mean any thing to the purpose, must mean sinners like himself;) besides this, he asserts, that the Apostle's reasoning goes on the ground, that (p. 46) “Adam's transgression had, in the plan of the divine administration, such a relation to his posterity, that in consequence of it, they were constituted sinners, and subjected to death and all other sufferings, as penal evils.Now if the posterity of Adam being constituted sinners, and subjected to all sufferings, as penal evils, that is, as punishments, in consequence of his transgression, mean any thing to the purpose for which it is introduced, and yet short of the common Calvinistic notion of imputation, I am unable to perceive what it is, and it needs explanation, and a more definite statement, than I have seen.

But I am persuaded the passage has no such meaning. It is a single phrase taken away from its connexion, and what is more, out of the middle of an argument. Did it therefore, as it does not, express distinctly our original native depravity, it would give very little satisfaction alone ; for there is no sentiment so absurd, that it may not be supported by single sentences, thus detached from the connexion in

which they are used. But I have observed that in its most obvious sense it expresses no such native corruption. Understood literally, the only assertion it contains with certainty is that of a fact, which none will deny, the universality of sin, that all have sinned. Now the nature of the universality intended to be asserted, in this, as in every case, is to be learned from the circumstances of the case. All who are capable of sinning, all as soon as they are capable of it, all as soon as they are moral agents. Such limitations of the sense of universal expressions in other cases are constantly occurring. Were all the inhabitants of a country required to take an oath of allegiance to the government; the requisition would be considered as complied with, though no infants and small children had taken the oath, and all would be considered as included under.its obligation. But there is another consideration, which ought to prevent this text from being considered of any weight on the subject. The whole passage in which it stands is one of the most intricate and difficult in the New Testament. The phrase,* on which so much is made to depend,

* 'Em", in our translation, “ for that,has been rendered by the several phrases, because, inasmuch as, as far as, in whom, unto. which, after whom, on account of whom. When meanings so -- various are assigned to this text by Schleusner, Elsner, Taylor,

Doddridge, Whitby, and Macknight, I am justified in attributing to it a degree of obscurity and uncertainty, which should prevent it from being alleged with much confidence in proof of any doctrine, which it may be supposed to express. .

admits equally well of several different translations, each of which will give it a different meaning; and its connexion with the passage in which it stands is not such, as to help us, to any degree of certainty, in determining by which version its true sense is expressed. Dr. Woods himself, " allows it to be in some respects very obscure.” He will doubtless admit then, that the support derived to a doctrine, depending on any particular translation of this text, or any particular meaning assigned to it, will be of very little value ; of none indeed any farther, than it receives support itself from other plainer passages.

Ephesians ii. 3. “And were by nature children of wrath, even as others.' The connexion and circumstances of the case show the meaning of this verse, and that it furnishes no proof of inbred moral corruption, but only of corrupt and wicked habits. It refers to the former state of Jews as well as heathen, before their conversion to Christianity. In that state, they were all alike, children of wrath, deserving of wrath, not as they came into the world, not as they came from their Maker's hand, but as they became by the habits, and customs, and practices of that state, into which they were born ; which was a state of nature, as compared with the state of grace, into which they were introduced by Christianity. What they were before they became Christians, they were by nature ; what they became afterward, was by the grace of God, which appeared bringing salvation. The state of nature was that, into which they came by their birth; as distin

[ocr errors]
« PrécédentContinuer »