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from the direct service of God was a wrong to him who is the great possessor of all things, and that our relation to him is so transcendently near and important as to swallow up and annihilate every other relation that is recognized on earth. Viewed in this light, the example referred to in the text is full of instruction and warning, teaching us that there is such a thing as nullifying the commandments of God by our traditional beliefs and opinions, sincere and honest though these may be, and that we must be on our guard lest we build up creeds and systems which do impair the power of the plain practical precepts of God's word.
Had this been done only by those who are referred to in the text, there would have been but little need of speaking of the error and evil now. But, unhappily, this is not the case. There are doctrines maintained at the present day, which have the same effect that our Saviour ascribed to the traditions of the Jews. There are traditional beliefs and opinions kept alive in creeds, and enforced as parts of a theological system, the natural and general effect of which is to impair, if they do not make of none effect, the practical commandments of God. The same warning, therefore, which Jesus uttered of old, the preachers of his truth should utter now. And as he proved the charge which he brought against the traditions of the Jews by an example, so would we name examples where the traditions of our times do have teracting and pernicious effect.
1. I name, first, that doctrine which declares that man inherits by nature an inability to do any good thing. The alleged fact of this inability is a fundamental article in the
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creeds of many churches, and it is affirmed Sabbath after Sabbath in their pulpits. The tradition is, that by Adam's fall every child of man is born into the world personally depraved, with a bias to sin, and a necessity of sinning, which he is altogether incapable of resisting. It is not material to my present purpose to show how it is that this doctrine has come to be believed, how it was first introduced to fill out and complete a system of theology, how it is now defended only by a misinterpretation of a few passages of Scripture, how it casts dishonor upon the government of God, how it is contradicted by our observation of childhood, by the history of the world, and by the facts of consciousness and experience. Only in one point of view am I to look at this doctrine now, and that is, in its making of none effect the commandments of God. And just so far as the doctrine is really believed, must not this be the natural and necessary result ? Make me to feel that I have by nature an incapacity to will or to do any good thing, and what is it to me that the Bible says, "Cease to do evil, learn to do well, let the wicked man forsake his ways, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; turn ye, repent, and put off the old man with his lusts." It might just as well call upon me to raise the dead, or to lift a mountain. My moral nature is paralyzed. All the sinews of resolution and perseverance are severed, all courage and hope are stricken down. What device can be thought of which will more effectually benumb and silence the conscience? Why should it lift its voice against a condition to which we are doomed from the very moment of birth? Why should we try to resist a law which we are altogether impotent' to
— NO. 232.
overcome ? Nor this alone. The natural tendency of this doctrine is to incline us to sin. It teaches us that our nature is a low and degraded thing, having an affinity to all evil, so that, when we are summoned to choose between the right and wrong path, all our previous convictions and feelings incline us to the evil course as a matter already settled, and of necessity. Its pernicious influence extends even further than this. By casting the blame of a corrupt nature back upon Adam, it disturbs and unsettles all conviction of personal responsibility and guilt. It sinks the idea of an individual accountability for every individual act, and thus encourages one to indulge a sinful nature, the guilt of which rests with others and not with him, and was incurred long before he was born into the world.
These tendencies of this doctrine are not remote and contingent, they are direct and inevitable. We can hardly name a more sure sequence of cause and effect. We may make our appeal to the believers in this doctrine themselves, and may ask them if there have not been times in their lives when they have felt that their creed has crippled their resolutions, and deadened their hopes, and paralyzed their moral strength. We might ask the young man, who has been brought up from a child in the belief that his nature was a vile and depraved thing, and utterly incapable of any good, if he has not felt the influences of this belief in those temptations which the young meet; and if, in his moments of remorse, he has never drowned and silenced the compunctions of conscience by saying, — "True, these are low, loathsome acts, but such, too, is my nature; for this I was born, to this I am
doomed, of nothing better than this am I capable, and for the blame and guilt of this others were made responsible long before I came into the world." Can there be any two things of which we may be surer than these, both that totally depraved beings would avail themselves of such valid excuses as these, and that beings not totally depraved, but tempted and tried by sin, will seek the cover of such excuses, if only their religious creed leads them to think that they are valid ? We regard this doctrine of man's native inability to do any good thing to be demoralizing in its influence ; we believe it is not to be compared, in its good practical efficacy, with that other doctrine, which teaches that man comes into the world innocent, and has power given to him to form his own character, and is individually responsible for every individual moral act. We believe that this doctrine is reasonable and Scriptural, and that which all the precepts and commandments of God's word presuppose, and on which they are based. We believe that the other doctrine is one example where men do now make the commandments of God of none effect by their traditions.
2. Another example of the same thing we may name in the doctrine of Election. The tradition here is, that without the special and supernatural influences of the Spirit no man's vile nature can be changed ; and that these influences are bestowed according to God's sovereign pleasure, here imparted and there withheld, so that salvation is not a reward to which all men may attain who will, but a special privilege to which only a certain part are elected. It needs but a few words, one would think, to point out the moral effect of such a doctrine as this. If fully believed, its legitimate fruit must be a passive fatalism, for the believer must feel, if he does not say in so many words, -"If I am to be saved, I shall be, without any concern of my own ; if I am not to be saved, no efforts of mine can arrest my horrible doom.” Thus it leads a man to think that his future condition is decided by something foreign to himself, and it makes of none effect all those passages of Scripture which represent that condition as turning upon his own choice and will. See what motives to watchfulness and self-government it takes away ; see how it relaxes that discipline on our tastes, and preferences, and wills, which a belief that on these our salvation depends imposes ; see how it extinguishes the vital meaning in every one of those texts which affirm, that if we seek, we shall find ; if we ask, it shall be given. While true religion holds up before every praying and longing soul the sweet hope of heaven, see on how many, especially in times of great excitement, this doctrine has cast the dark shadow of despair, making them feel that they have been passed by in the outpourings of God's grace, and that, do what they will, it is all over with them now ; no efforts of theirs can bring peace and hope to their souls. And while the commandments of God speak of the religious life as a process of culture, first the blade, then the ear, and then the full corn in the ear, and as a dawning light which shines brighter and brighter and to the perfect day, see how all these words are nullified by the tradition we are now considering. It makes religion a thing of fits and starts, of miraculous illuminations and instantaneous developments, filling some with groundless and conceited assurances of their security, and others with cruel